Less than third of women with cervical cancer accept Government review of slides
Less than a third of women with cervical cancer have accepted an invitation to take part in a Government-ordered review of their slides.
More than 1,600 letters had been sent to women as of last month: 32pc replied, with the majority giving their consent to having their slides reviewed by Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), according to a Department of Health steering group.
In addition, around 50 of the 221 women whose smear tests were misread have consented to take part in the review.
Yesterday the husband of a woman who died last month of complications of cervical cancer told The Irish Times that he would not be taking part in the RCOG review because he had “lost trust in the system”.
Tony O’Reilly’s wife, Julie (60), was the 19th of the 20 women caught up in CervicalCheck controversy to die.
Four successive smear tests failed to pick up the presence of high-grade abnormalities. The abnormalities were detected after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, triggering an automatic audit of her original smear tests by CervicalCheck.
As with many of the 221 women, she was told of the audit results only after Vicky Phelan went public, having settled her own legal action for €2.5m. Ms Phelan revealed that her own smear test had been misread, and that other women were also affected. Experts have warned that screening is not an exact science and that there is a margin of error that will lead to false negatives, not all of which will be picked up.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London was asked by the Government to review the slides of just over 1,800 women with cervical cancer. The purpose of the review is to provide affected women with “independent clinical assurance about the timing of their diagnosis and treatment”. It will also examine failures to prevent cancer or to intervene at an earlier stage.
The terms of reference allow for RCOG to engage with individual women regarding the interpretation of their case review, but expressly not to discuss any aspects of an individual woman’s clinical care.
The solicitor representing the O’Reilly family, Cian O’Carroll, queried whether the RCOG review will make a finding on negligence. He said that women are entitled to know whether their misread smear tests were the result of a acceptable screening error or a negligent error.
He said the RCOG review’s terms of reference suggests that they “are prevented from expressing a view as to whether the errors were negligent or not”.
Lorraine Walsh, one of the 221 women and co-founder with Vicky Phelan of the support group 221+, questioned the RCOG review last month. She told the group’s first meeting that the RCOG’s findings will reflect less than one quarter of the 221 women, adding that she was not sure “what kind of answer we will get from RCOG”.
RCOG’s review is the second into the controversy. Dr Gabriel Scally conducted a scoping inquiry which found governance failures across the Health Service Executive, but expressed confidence in the laboratories used by CervicalCheck.
He is continuing to investigate one US laboratory for outsourcing slides.
The latest published minutes of a steering group set up by the Minister for Health Simon Harris said that approximately 1,600 letters inviting women to take part in the RCOG review had been issued.
Around 32pc of the consent forms have been returned, “with the majority of these consenting to take part in the review.
“It was emphasised that slides should start transfer to the labs involved in the review as soon as possible,” the minutes said.
A Dail committee was told last week that the debacle over the cancer screening controversy has led to more women being put at risk because of a 20-week waiting time for their smear tests to be read.
The Public Accounts Committee was told that the Government’s blanket decision to give free smear tests to all women after the controversy broke has led to the massive backlog.
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