In June 2018, I established the CervicalCheck Steering Committee to provide oversight and assurance on the implementation of key decisions taken by Government in relation to CervicalCheck, and to work to ensure a sustainable and effective cervical screening programme in the interests of women’s health. The Committee is chaired by my Department and membership includes senior officials from my Department and the HSE, clinicians and patient advocates and representatives. The Terms of Reference for the Committee are published on my Department’s website, as are the agenda and minutes of all Committee meetings.
Since its inception, the Committee has met 17 times and has overseen significant progress in a number of key areas. There is now a well-established and stable process for the provision of supports to women and families, in accordance with the Government decision; key staff have been appointed to CervicalCheck including a Clinical Director and staff with public health and cytopathology expertise; approximately 1,075 women have consented to be included in the Independent Clinical Expert Review and the slides are currently being independently reviewed. The Review will provide much needed-clarity for the women involved, and I look forward to receiving and publishing the Royal College's report.
In September, the Scoping Inquiry led by Dr Gabriel Scally completed its Report, providing a clear picture of what happened, and improving the understanding of the screening and audit processes and their limitations. The Committee oversaw the development of an Implementation Plan for all 50 recommendations of the Scoping Inquiry. The Implementation Plan published in December provides the necessary foundation to ensure a highly effective and well managed cervical screening programme. I welcome Dr Scally's recent progress report, published on the website of my Department last Thursday, in which he affirms that the Implementation Plan is a comprehensive response to his report, that significant effort and resources are being committed to addressing the problems he identified, and that the appropriate resourcing and project management structures are in place. The continued implementation of Dr Scally's recommendations is a key priority.
A second key priority is the introduction of the HPV test as the primary screening test. In conjunction with the extension of the HPV vaccine to boys, this will represent a significant step forward in public health and it presents the opportunity to work towards the near-eradication of cervical cancer. A project team is in place in the HSE and work is ongoing to drive this complex project forward.
In tandem with this, a third key priority is to address smear testing capacity challenges such that the current backlog is eliminated and we ensure a sustainable programme into the future. The HSE is working very actively to put in place additional capacity, following extensive searches internationally.
My Department and the HSE have been working intensively and at the highest levels to ensure these identified priorities are progressed as swiftly as possible, and continue to do so, and they are also the subject of discussion and reporting at monthly meetings of the Steering Committee. I am satisfied that the terms of reference of the Steering Committee encompass all of these matters but of course these are kept under review. I understand that the Committee is currently giving consideration to how best to support progress on these priorities and I look forward to this important work continuing.