Republic of Ireland news

Leo Varadkar: Women hit by cervical cancer row will be compensated

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said women affected by the cervical smear controversy will be compensated. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
David Young, Press Association

WOMEN affected by the cervical cancer smear controversy will be compensated, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar promised a redress scheme as political pressure mounted on the Irish Government over its handling of a furore around wrongly interpreted smear test results.

At the start of the week, the Republic's Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that an audit by CervicalCheck - the national screening programme - of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in 208 cases.

Those mistakes meant women received clear smear results when in fact a different result, warning of cancer, should have been flagged.

But on Tuesday evening, Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that not all cases of cervical cancer in the last decade were subjected to the audit.

Smear test results linked to an estimated 1,500 more women who were subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer will now be reassessed - a move that opens up the possibility that many more than 208 women were given incorrect results.

The majority of those 208 women - 162 - were not initially told of the outcome of the audit. Of the 208, 17 women have since died.

In heated exchanges in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said: "We will need a scheme of redress for women whose cancer was missed and should have been detected beyond normal error, for women where there was a breach of duty to inform them of the audit results, so we will need to have a scheme of redress.

"But we will need to establish the facts before we do that."

A statutory inquiry will be established along with a review of all the smears of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the past ten years.

HSE director general Tony O'Brien, who is already due to leave his post at the end of the summer, has faced calls to quit immediately.

Mr O'Brien told the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday that the revelations had come as a "personal blow".

"I do not have many months left in my role.. consequently I intend to devote the greater part of those weeks to addressing these issues," he said.

Mr O'Brien also said that of the 17 women whose smear tests were audited and later died, two were told of the results of their review before their deaths.

The controversy was triggered by the case of Vicky Phelan, a terminally ill mother whose legal battle cast light on the issue.

Last week Ms Phelan, a 43-year-old mother of two from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for €2.5 million after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

In 2014 she was diagnosed with cancer but only told of the false negative last September.

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