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Number of deaths in cervical cancer controversy in Republic not known

Vicky Phelan
Seanín Graham

THE number of women who have died in the Republic after being caught up in a delayed cervical cancer diagnosis controversy remains unknown, according to health minister Simon Harris.

Mr Harris was responding to claims made by 43-year-old Vicky Phelan, one of more than 200 women incorrectly given the all-clear, that three women have died from the disease.

Mrs Phelan, a mother-of-two from Limerick who is now terminally ill, was last week awarded €2.5 million in a High Court settlement against a US laboratory.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mrs Phelan claims that when she was told last year that she was one of 10 women whose test results were being examined in 2014, she asked had any of them died and was told there were three.

Mr Harris yesterday said he was unaware of the figure but hopes to have more clarity today.

He also said he hopes to know if all of the women affected or their families have been told.

Speaking on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' programme, he added that every woman who has had a smear test can have a re-check if they want it.

Last week it emerged that a total of 206 women developed the disease after having a misdiagnosed smear in the country's free screening programme, Cervical Check.

The women were incorrectly told their tests were clear despite having abnormalities which required further medical interventions that may have prevented cancer.

The figures cover a 10-year period and include Mrs Phelan who did not learn about her incorrect 2011 smear test until six years later, despite a 2014 audit by Cervical Check showing that the test was wrong.

On Saturday evening, the clinical director of the Cervical Check screening programme, Dr Gráinne Flannelly, stood down "with immediate effect".

In a statement issued by the Health Service Executive, Dr Flannelly said she was "sorry that recent events caused distress and worry" to women.

"I have decided to step aside to allow the programme to continue it's important work," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris also said he hoped that neither the health service nor the State would not defend any other cases there may be similar to the Vicky Phelan case.

He had put pressure on management of the cervical screening programme after he said they should reflect on their positions.

Around 13 hospitals are continuing to feed back information on the 206 women to a special team at the Irish National Cancer Screening Service.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he hoped that patients are entitled to information more quickly in the wake of the crisis.

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