Simon Harris Announces HIQA Investigation Into Cervical Check Scandal

Cervical Check
Pic via @MerrionStreet

Minister for Health Simon Harris has announced a HIQA Investigation into the cervical check scandal that has escalated in the past few days. It comes as news emerged that 15 out of 17 women that died were not contacted and were unaware of any such review and the subsequent results.

Vicky Phelan was told of a clear smear test in 2011 only to discover in 2014 that she only had 12 months to live following a cervical cancer diagnosis. Ms Phelan was awarded €2.5 million following her case concluding in the High Court last week.

A large number of concerned women attempted to contact the CervicalCheck helpline following the revelations however the service encountered a technical glitch to which the health minister tweeted was “the last thing anyone needed, I know” before stating that;

“I haven’t just apologised, I’ve taken swift action. There will be full external review with international expertise. Root & branch examination of all issues. I have put in a senior team into CervicalCheck & have made my views on management of the programme very clear.”

Today Minister Harris released a statement confirming the launch of the investigation

“Vicky Phelan has done a huge and courageous service to this country in highlighting a number of major weaknesses in relation to how people experience our health service. I am determined that swift action will follow to address these weaknesses.”

“Therefore I am now writing to HIQA to request that they commence a Section 9(2) statutory investigation, with all necessary powers, including compellability to examine the CervicalCheck screening programme arising from the issues highlighted by Vicky Phelan. This investigation will place a particular focus on the quality assurance systems, clinical audit processes and the communications with patients. Under the auspices of this statutory investigation, an International Peer Review Group will examine the cervical screening programme in Ireland against international best practice and standards. I will be asking HIQA to identify within its terms of reference any implications that may apply to other cancer screening programmes.”

“In addition, I am appointing an International Clinical Expert Panel to provide the women concerned with an individual clinical review. This Clinical Expert Panel will also produce an overall report to inform HIQA’s investigation and the work of the International Peer Review Group. A liaison nurse specialist will coordinate the work of the Expert Panel and will identify and ensure the provision of any required support for the women involved. It is anticipated that the work of the Expert Group will be complete as soon as possible.”

“I also intend to bring proposals to Government next week to legislate for mandatory open disclosure for serious reportable events.”

“It is my hope and expectation that these steps will ensure the integrity of the cervical screening programme at the same time as providing learning for all cancer screening programmes. These programmes are an important component of the progress that we have made over the last 10 years in cancer survivorship for our citizens. I am committed to the further development of our cancer services and to delivering the ambitious roadmap set out for these services as outlined in the National Cancer Strategy which I launched last year.”