The cabinet is expected to approve a statutory investigation into the CervicalCheck scandal this morning.
Yesterday, the HSE confirmed that 17 women whose test results were reviewed as part of an audit of Ireland’s national cervical screening programme have died.
Of the 208 women whose results were scrutinised, only 46 were informed about the history of their smear tests.
It means some 162 women did not know there might be a problem with their cancer check.
The figures came to light after terminally ill mother Vicky Phelan settled a case last week after having her own diagnosis delayed, leading to her cancer being more developed when she learned of it.
The Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to answer questions on the scandal in the Dáil this afternoon.
Root and branch
He has asked the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to carry out a root and branch review of the programme.
HIQA is expected to set out the inquiry’s terms of reference within weeks.
It is expected to look at communication with patients and quality assurance of the tests carried out.
The screening programme here will be compared with international best standards and HIQA will be asked to look at any implications for other cancer screening programmes.
An expert panel will also be set up to offer the women involved an independent clinical review and provide them with any supports needed.
Cabinet is expected to sign off on the plan this morning.
Speaking yesterday, Minister Harris said affected women are entitled to an independent clinical review.
He said the review would be carried out “probably with clinicians from abroad; who can advise them of their case, all of the facts around it and indeed review their case.”
“I then want that independent clinical expert panel to inform HIQA’s investigation and the work of the international peer review group,” he said.
Fianna Fáil is demanding the publication of the note the minister received from his department about the Vicky Phelan case before it went to court.
The memo was sent to Minister Harris on April 16th informing him of the case.
Minister Harris has insisted the note did not indicate there would be any wider implications outside of the case.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Stephen Donnelly says there are questions for the government to answer:
“There has been an appalling breach of trust and there has been an appalling failure of management and communication with the public, there is no question about it,” he said.
“One of the questions we want to ask is why action wasn’t taken earlier by Government.
“We have seen a failure in the HSE; we have seen a culture whereby – as far as I can see – the information was suppressed for a number of years.”
Meanwhile, The Irish Cancer Society has said that Cervical Check needs to make it clear to women how they can have repeat smear tests, or have their samples reviewed.
The charity says confidence must be restored in the screening programme, as well as in Breast check and Bowel Screen.
Women who have concerns about an earlier smear, but who don’t have any other symptoms, can request that their sample be reviewed, rather than having to go for another smear before their next one is due.
Donal Buggy from the Irish Cancer Society says that process needs to be clarified:
“We need to move on to those women who are concerned about their smears and really today we need to understand what the process for re-testing those smears will be,” he said.
“Where will that be done? How do you get in contact with the Cervical Check programme in relation to that? If you have any concerns, how do you get those concerns allayed?”
Next week, the Government will bring forward proposals to make it mandatory for doctors to tell patients about serious reportable events affecting them.