221+ welcomes confirmation of Independent Chair of CervicalCheck Steering Committee

The 221+ Patient Support Group strongly welcomes confirmation by Minister Stephen Donnelly T.D. that the work of the CervicalCheck Steering Committee is to continue under an independent chair.

The resumption of the work of the Committee was a key request of this group going into the election. It brings necessary oversight to delivering on the recommendations of the Scally reviews and is critical to ensuring that the shortcomings of the past in respect of cervical screening are never repeated again.

An  independent chair is something we would have wished to see from the outset of the Committee. We look forward to the early resumption of its work as the resolution of a number of key issues including the regime for mandatory disclosure and the sustainable role of patient advocates in healthcare management and governance are still outstanding.

We also note the Minister’s confirmation of the appointment of Ms. Justice Power and Mr. Justice O’Connor as chairperson and ordinary member of the  CervicalCheck Tribunal and that the Tribunal will shortly be established.

Mr. Donnelly has confirmed his intention to meet with 221+ in the coming weeks and we look forward to confirmation of a date in that regard. We will be interested to hear of progress on the establishment of suitable lab facilities in Ireland to enable a restoration of testing here rather that the continued reliance on outsourcing to overseas labs – something we believe has been a contributory factor to CervicalCheck’s problems.

We will also be raising with him the necessity to look at a support and care regime for those added women who have received a diagnosis of cervical cancer since mid 2018 when the auditing of screening was suspended following the Phelan case. With the reporting this week of the case of Galway mother of four Patricia Carrick, It is now emerging that women diagnosed since that date who find themselves in precisely the same circumstances as the 221 and RCOG women (i.e. a cervical cancer diagnosis with previous negative smear tests that have on review been found to be false negatives) are not deemed eligible for the same supports those groups get by virtue of the date of their diagnosis.

This is an intolerable anomaly directly affecting individual families that are being torn apart by the confirmation of a life threatening or life altering diagnosis. The structure and form of that support and care package has been shaped when these issues first emerged in 2018. The number of added cases likely to require such support can be defined by the time period between the suspension of auditing in 2018 and the replacement of the smear test with HPV testing in March of this year.  It is thus an anomaly that we will be urging the HSE and the Department of Health to have addressed as a matter of urgency.