Belfast Telegraph

‘Remarkable coincidence’ campaigners’ smear results were mixed up, hearing told

The Health Committee heard from representatives from the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians.

CervicalCheck campaigner Lorraine Walsh (Niall Carson/PA)
CervicalCheck campaigner Lorraine Walsh (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Health Committee has heard that it is a “remarkable” coincidence that smear results from two prominent campaigners got mixed up in a review.

The Oireachtas committee heard from representatives from the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians (RCOG) on Wednesday, which recently completed a review of Ireland’s CervicalCheck controversy.

During the RCOG’s review, two prominent campaigners, Lorraine Walsh and Vicky Phelan, had their slides mixed up, when labels were removed and replaced incorrectly.

The committee heard temporary labels were taken off and put back on following completion of the review after slides had been put into their boxes and sealed.

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Left to right, campaigners Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh at the launch of 221+ Cervical Check Patient Support Group (PA)

There was a request to remove some material used to anonymise the slides, and in the process of removing that, some original labels were removed and in the case of four slides, the issue arose.

Labour TD Alan Kelly queried how the RCOG panel and Health Service Executive can be confident mistakes were not made after Ms Walsh received two separate smear results.

In relation to the Walsh issue, Mr Kelly said: “If she hadn’t come back, she wouldn’t have gotten a second report, only she knew what she was talking about and that there was a problem. So if that’s one case, how can you say there isn’t others?

“The idea that three slides get mislabelled, two of them happen to be those two ladies, Vicky Phelan and Lorraine Walsh, their labels were taken off, and Vicky’s put on Lorraine’s and vice versa – how can that happen?  To those two women? Two of 1,038?

“It is amazing the two people who are best known in the country in relation to this have their slides mixed up, that appears to be a remarkable coincidence.”

Professor Henry Kitchener, the RCOG’s lead assessor, replied to Mr Kelly: “With reference to correct an error, we’d always work to see any similar error hadn’t happened in any other case and we’re confident in the final analysis, every woman has received open disclosure of her review.

“It is a remarkable coincidence, but as I’ve said, this labelling issue took place following completion of review and therefore had no impact on the actual conduct of the slide review.”

Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan said that the mislabelling “is surprising, but my understanding is the identity of any individuals were not known”.

Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly said: “Calling it a coincidence is a huge understatement.”

The committee also heard that politicians are worried that patient advocate Ms Walsh felt bullied during the process.

Ms Walsh told the Health Committee on Tuesday that her own experience has not been positive or reassuring in seeking the truth in relation to the RCOG, and she along with patient advocate Stephen Teap has no confidence in the review.

“We have a serious issue here, the two patient advocates sat here last night and said they have no confidence in the report, that’s their opinion which they aired publicly,” Mr Kelly said.

“It’s deeply worrying, on Lorraine Walsh, representatives here should reflect on what she said.

“To hear the harrowing testimony yesterday was very upsetting.”

The CervicalCheck scandal in 2018 saw around 221 women with cervical cancer not informed that smear test results showing them to be clear were inaccurate, and revised test results were then kept from them.

PA

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