It is estimated that regular cervical screening can prevent 75% of cervical cancer cases. However cervical screening will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. In the cases of 1,482 women who had been screened and were later given a diagnosis of cervical cancer, CervicalCheck carried out an audit of their previous cervical screening tests. The objective of audit and quality review at CervicalCheck was to facilitate continued improvement and ongoing learning within the programme. The audit found that 221 of these women could have been provided with a different result.
In August 2015, a decision was taken by the HSE, in line with international best practice, to provide information on the outcome of the audit for onward communication to patients but the intention to disclose this information was not followed through and many of the women concerned were not informed about the results of the audit.
Consideration is being given to an appropriate form of apology, and this will be discussed with the 221+ before any final decision is made. I have met and spoken with many of the women involved, including at a meeting in January 2019, at which I apologised for how women and families were treated, as well as thanking them for sharing their views and experiences. The National Cancer Screening Service wrote last year to each woman affected, or their next of kin, apologising for the failures in relation to disclosure and setting out the actions being taken by the HSE to address the issues identified. The former Director General of the HSE, and the former head of Cervical Check have also apologised personally to individual women when the opportunity has arisen. Last year, Cervical Check placed advertisements with national media outlets apologising for how standards fell short in relation to this issue.
It is also very important to note the actions taken by the State to address the issues identified in the Scoping Inquiry led by Dr Scally. Government has accepted in full the recommendations of the Scoping Inquiry and work is ongoing to implement these in full. In relation to the women concerned I am pleased that the Ex-Gratia Scheme has made its first payments in relation to the non-disclosure of audit results, and I understand that the panel will meet again shortly to consider further payments.