The number of legal claims taken against CervicalCheck, the national screening service, has now climbed to 369, including 76 cases associated with the psychological impact on families of women who got an alleged incorrect smear result.
he highest number of claims were made last year, with 103 legal actions lodged, figures from the State Claims Agency show.
In 2018, when Vicky Phelan’s case was settled in the High Court and it emerged an internal CervicalCheck look-back audit was carried out into women after they were diagnosed with cervical
cancer, 86 claims were made, figures obtained in a parliamentary response by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín have revealed.
Ms Phelan’s case led to revelations that only a minority of women were told about the audit or that their screening test could have provided a different result and recommended earlier follow-up.
Another 52 claims were made in 2019 and 95 in 2020. Mr Tóibín had asked how many cases were taken against CervicalCheck and the HSE for alleged misreading of smear tests.
In its response, the State Claims Agency confirmed that 76 of the 369 claims “are associated with psychological claims brought by family members”.
Earlier this month Dr Nóirín Russell, who is clinical director of CervicalCheck, said she was sorry for comments she made during a conversation with Mr Tóibín in December 2020 and said these do not reflect her views today.
In a video conversation she had with the Meath TD in December 2020, Dr Russell said some lawyers were making “huge amounts of money” out of court cases representing women who had been screened and later developed cervical cancer.
She said some women were being told “if someone did their job right, you would not have cancer and for the vast majority of women that is not the situation,” according to a transcript of the private meeting.
In response to the transcript, the 221+ group, representing women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, said the comments are “consistent with what we have heard and felt over the past two years and it’s a relief that the public can now see the attitudes behind closed doors that we have been dealing with.
“What happens now as a consequence of these revelations is a matter for others.
“Our primary purpose is the support of member needs.”
The group emphasised it fully supports cervical screening and urges women to avail of the service.
Public health specialist Dr Gabriel Scally is expected to deliver his update on the progress of his 2019 recommendations on the overhaul and future of the service in the coming weeks.
The 2019 report led to a new level of governance of CervicalCheck. Women’s samples are now tested for the HPV virus which prevents more cancers than the previous primary cytology testing.
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