Missed opportunities to prevent or diagnose cancer earlier for 159 Irish women
A review of CervicalCheck, the Irish health service cervical cancer screening programme, has showed missed opportunities to prevent or diagnose cancer earlier for 159 women.
The review involved the re-examination of the slides from smear tests of more than 1,000 women who went on to develop cervical cancer.
Close to 30% of cases examined as part of the review showed a different result to the original finding.
The independent review, published yesterday, was carried out by the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
CervicalCheck is a free smear test offered to Irish women between the ages of 25 and 60, by the Health Service Executive (HSE).
The free testing scheme has been marred in controversy since 2018 when it emerged that scores of women with cervical cancer were not told that tests showing up as normal were in fact inaccurate.
Several women went on to sue the HSE for receiving incorrect smear test results.
The latest findings have led to the resignation of Lorraine Walsh, a leading advocate for women affected by Ireland’s cervical cancer scandal.
Ms. Walsh has stepped down from her role as patient representative on the CervicalCheck steering committee citing her lack of confidence in the review.
Ms. Walsh developed cervical cancer following the incorrect reading of a CervicalCheck smear test.
Speaking to Irish state broadcaster, RTE, she said, ‘I wish I could sit here tonight and tell the women of Ireland I have confidence in that report. I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be telling the women of Ireland that I don’t have confidence in this, but I absolutely don’t.’
She said that a few months ago the steering committee had learned that information sent from RCOG to the HSE was inaccurate.
‘Even as late as early October, of 581 reports, half of them had to be returned because the detail within them was inaccurate. I felt that I got to a stage where people weren’t listening to my concerns so I could do no other thing but to resign,’ she said.
Six weeks ago, Ireland’s Prime Minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadker made an apology on behalf of the State to those affected.
Speaking in the Irish Parliament he said, ‘many failures have taken place…….. failure to tell the whole truth and to do so in a timely manner.’
Health Minister Simon Harris, TD, welcomed the publication of the review saying it sought to answer women’s questions on whether they can trust the screening programme.
He said, ‘The answer is clear, and thankfully, is yes.’
He went on to say the fact that some abnormalities in smear tests are missed is ‘extremely painful and devastating on a human level.’
He added that ‘no screening programme in the world will detect all cancers. And that is the difficult, painful reality.’
According to RCOG, the overall finding from the review is that the Irish cancer screening programme is ‘performing effectively.’
(Image: Pan American Health Organisation via Creative Commons)