I understand that the Deputy is referring to the Independent Clinical Expert Panel Review of cervical screening, which is being carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
The purpose of the review is to provide women, or their next of kin, with independent clinical assurance about the timing of their diagnosis and treatment. In addition, an aggregate report by the Royal College will make recommendations, where appropriate, with the aim of improving care for women.
I am happy to report that the RCOG review is nearing completion. The overriding focus throughout this process has been to ensure that review results are communicated to women and families in the most appropriate and sensitive way possible.
On 9 September, the HSE sent a letter to all 1,038 participants in the review to provide them with options about how they may choose to receive their report. The process of communicating individual reports to women or next of kin has been ongoing since the 23 September. This has been a large-scale process and, although it has taken longer than originally planned, is expected to complete in the coming days.
A core principle underpinning this process has been to ensure that individual participants would have had an opportunity to receive their results in advance of publication of the Expert Panel’s Aggregate Report. In keeping with this principle, the Minister for Health will bring the aggregate report to Government, and publish it, once he has received assurance that all women or next of kin have had the opportunity to receive their individual report.
While the aggregate report has not yet been received, the Royal College in a letter to the Minister for Health in September advised that, based on the provisional findings of its Review, the performance characteristics of the CervicalCheck Screening Programme that fall within the scope of the Review appear to be broadly in line with experience in the UK.
It has always been expected that a significant proportion of women in this review will receive results which disagree with their original review result. This is in line with international experience. For example, in one review of the English Cervical Screening Programme, 45% of slide reviews disagreed with the original review result.
This reflects the reality that no matter how closely a review panel tries to reproduce the original screening conditions, the conditions of a review are different – the fact that a review includes records of a patient known to have a serious condition, such as cancer, will heighten vigilance and increase reports of abnormality. Finding discrepancies on review does not imply that the same findings should have been made under routine conditions.