April 30, 2018

Irish Cancer Society seeks urgent meeting with Minister Harris around CervicalCheck

Society calls for Statutory Inquiry and early introduction of HPV DNA testing

The Irish Cancer Society wishes to express its deepest sympathies to the families of the 17 women identified in a review of smear tests who died, and may not have known the correct results of their cervical cancer screening.

That 162 of 208 women were not promptly told of the errors associated with their smear test results is unacceptable in a modern health service. These women, their families and the country deserve answers as to how this could happen, and what can be done to prevent such an event reoccurring. Nothing less than a statutory enquiry can ensure that the full facts now emerge.

We are seeking reassurances on behalf of the women affected, and the many others who this week may be very concerned about their own negative smear results.

This afternoon the Irish Cancer Society has requested an urgent meeting with the Minister for Health Simon Harris to seek clarity on the following:

  • The scope and terms of reference of a statutory inquiry;
  • Redress for those affected;
  • Leadership roles and communications issues;
  • Process for repeat smear testing;
  • Legislative proposals around mandatory reporting;
  • Early introduction of HPV DNA testing.

This is a sad and tragic episode in the history of the Irish health service that has highlighted glaring errors of judgement and a level of transparency well below what patients should expect, and is at odds with the standards set out in the National Policy on Open Disclosure and the National Cancer Strategy’s commitment to patient-centred care.

The Irish Cancer Society has supported the CervicalCheck programme since its establishment, and believes that cervical screening, combined with the HPV vaccine is the most effective method of all but eradicating cervical cancer in the coming decades. This is a life-saving programme, but significant errors of judgement have clearly been made in the handling of missed abnormalities.

We would again like to thank Vicky Phelan, who through her unwavering strength and courage, has shone a spotlight on an issue that strikes at the core of cancer patient care in Ireland. Throughout this process, Vicky has repeatedly called on the women of Ireland to continue attending their cervical screening appointments.

While the health system made serious missteps and its damaging mishandling of communication undeniably failed Vicky, cervical screening has saved women’s lives and will continue to do so while women use the programme. The Irish Cancer Society echoes Vicky’s calls to continue availing of cervical cancer screening.