Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions (697)

John Lahart


697. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Health the reason so many women are forced to take court proceeding to elicit satisfaction from the State in respect of the CervicalCheck vaccine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8084/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Arising from the court cases relating to CervicalCheck, the Government of the time agreed that Mr. Justice Charles Meenan would be requested to review how claims arising out of CervicalCheck could be resolved outside the court process.

In his Report on an Alternative System for Dealing With Claims Arising From CervicalCheck submitted in October 2018, Judge Meenan proposed that claims arising out of CervicalCheck could be resolved outside the court process and that a Tribunal be established under statute for the purpose of hearing and determining these claims.

In December 2018 the Government agreed to establish the CervicalCheck Tribunal. The legislation necessary to establish the Tribunal, the CervicalCheck Tribunal Act 2019 passed through the Oireachtas and was signed into law by the President on 23 July 2019.

It was originally intended that the CervicalCheck Tribunal would be established by the end of March 2020. However, establishment was delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. A further delay arose in June 2020 when previously nominated members were no longer in a position to take up roles in the Tribunal.

I commenced the relevant sections of the CervicalCheck Tribunal Act 2019 on 21 October 2020 and signed the order to appoint 27 October 2020 as the establishment day of the Tribunal.

Following a pause in the steps towards full establishment of the Tribunal, to allow for discussions with the 221+ Patient Representative Group about the Tribunal and CervicalCheck Cases generally, the establishment of the Tribunal was finalised with the appointment of the nominated members with effect from 1 December 2020, facilitating the Tribunal in starting its work and providing women who are eligible to make a claim to the Tribunal with an alternative to the Courts for their claims.

The Tribunal remains the most appropriate venue to hear and determine CervicalCheck claims. It has been specifically designed for that purpose. It is, of course, entirely up to eligible women as to whether or not they use it.

In respect of screening it is important to note that all of the recent major reviews and reports state that our national cancer screening programmes, including CervicalCheck, meet international standards, are valuable in improving the health of our population, and that the public can have confidence in them. However, it is also important to highlight the limitations associated with screening programmes, Interval cancers occur in all screening programmes. The National Screening Services strive to prevent or diagnose as many cancers as possible but acknowledge that all international programmes report a number of interval cancers each year.

In his report Mr. Justice Meenan explained the limitations of the screening process and the implications that these limitations have for the issue of liability with regard to CervicalCheck claims. Accordingly, the format for the CervicalCheck Tribunal which Mr. Justice Meenan recommended recognises the issues of liability involved in CervicalCheck cases and allows them to be addressed by the Tribunal.

In relation to Cervical Check, the programme made the technical transition to HPV cervical screening in March of last year. This improved testing methodology, along with the continued roll-out of HPV vaccinations, means that Ireland can look forward to a significant reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer cases over the next 10-20 years. It is worth noting that since CervicalCheck started in 2008, the number of women who developed cervical cancer has fallen by 7% year on year between 2010-2015. In the absence of screening, cervical cancer may not have been detected in these people until they developed physical signs or symptoms of more advanced disease.

Screening is a population health measure for people who are presumed healthy and do not have symptoms. An important message for the public, including anyone who may be between screening tests or waiting for a rescheduled appointment, is to be aware of, and act upon, any symptoms associated with the conditions they are screened for. Anyone with concerns about symptoms should contact their GP who will arrange appropriate follow-up care.