Belfast Telegraph

Health minister explores ways to allow women access to Cervical Check tribunal

Around 2,000 women who were on the national caner registry were offered the audit review.

Health Minister Simon Harris appeared before the Health Select Committee (Screenshot Cate McCurry/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris appeared before the Health Select Committee (Screenshot Cate McCurry/PA)

The minister for health said he will consider options that would allow hundreds of women access to the Cervical Check Tribunal after they were previously denied.

The tribunal is available to the CervicalCheck patient support group 221+ and women who consented to participate in the current RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) review of cervical screening.

Around 2,000 women who were on the national caner registry were offered the audit review.

Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Joint Health Committee that around 63% of these women consented.

Under the CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill, these women have access to the tribunal, however the women who did not participate in the  RCOG review do not have access to the tribunal as it is based on a finding of “discordance”.

We don't know how many would have yes but it's reasonable to think it's more than zero Stephen Donnelly

The Bill is to provide for the establishment of an independent statutory tribunal to deal with the CervicalCheck claims.

Mr Harris told the committee that the deadline for participation in the RCOG review has passed and that he has not found another mechanism or process.

Fianna Fail’s Stephen Donnelly said that the women who did not consent to the review did so without knowing they were losing access to the tribunal.

Mr Donnelly, the party’s health spokesman, added: “We don’t know how many would have yes but it’s reasonable to think it’s more than zero.

“I imagine that if some of those 1,00 women were told that in order for you to have access to the tribunal you have to take part in the RCOG  review, it is inevitable there is a number of those who would say yes.”

Labour’s Alan Kelly said the bill is “too narrow”.

He added: “I have concerns about this tribunal. In principle, we all want this tribunal to work and be effective, but in doing so we have to make sure that women and their families see it as the best route and it’s as inclusive as possible.

“There’s a cohort of women who are outside of this and are almost blindsided by the fact that they could have been advised for many different reasons not to go through the RCOG review, and because they didn’t go through they don’t have access now.

“That can’t happen so we have got to find a solution. They have to have the option.

“We can pass this legislation, but we can do so with an amendment that there will be a mechanism found to deal with these women who are outside this process.”

Mr Harris said that no one chose to enter the RCOG process as a “passport” to go into the tribunal because no one knew about the existence of the tribunal at the time.

He added: “Women who chose to do it to have the option as having an independent external review of their screening history and a determination or not if there was a discordance.

“I would respectfully suggest that I would reflect and engage further with members of this committee between now and report stage. We can see if there is a way of coming up with this either in this legislation or indeed a commitment to return with a proposal.”

Mr Kelly also raised concerns over women who face the risk of their cancer returning.

“If a women takes her case to court she knows there will be a finality to the decision that if she suffers a re-occurrence later on she won’t be compensated,” he added.

“That’s unavoidable but it’s not unavoidable in a tribunal and we have precedent for it.

“If a re-occurrence happens the woman can return because unfortunately they are going to be those cases and they will be locked out from of going back and seeking damages where the health outcomes may have deteriorated significantly.”

People Before Profit’s Brid Smith said the return of cancer can be more “distressing and much more dangerous”.

“What do women do if they don’t have the financial means and support to deal with the stress,” she said.

“We have to allow them to return to the tribunal to receive the protection and support of the tribunal and to do otherwise would be punitive.”

PA

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