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Varadkar feels heat over smear tests scandal in Republic of Ireland


Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Daragh

Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Daragh

Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Daragh

Women affected by the cervical cancer smear controversy in the Irish Republic will be compensated, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar promised a redress scheme as political pressure mounted on the government over its handling of a furore around wrongly interpreted smear tests 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 Dail 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 Dail yesterday, 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."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the fact not all cases had been audited was "shocking".

"This shocking and out of the blue revelation confirms that the response to this crisis to date by the minister (Mr Harris) and the Department of Health has not been either competent or comprehensive," he said.

The controversy was triggered by the case of Vicky Phelan, the 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 €2.5m 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.

An independent review of the screening programme has already been launched while the clinical director of CervicalCheck stepped down at the weekend.

HSE director general Tony O'Brien, who is already due to leave his post at the end of the summer, has also faced calls to quit immediately. Officials who were called in at short notice before the Oireachtas health committee to explain the crisis were mostly from the HSE and Department of Health.

They included only one member of the CervicalCheck staff, programme manager John Gleeson.

Asked why CervicalCheck sent out a circular to doctors in 2016 asking them to use their judgment about whether to inform women of their test review report, he said: "We did not know when we wrote out a letter what the particular circumstances of a woman were."

Questioned on why it said to just note it on a woman's file if she had died, rather than telling her next of kin, Mr Gleeson said: "Our understanding under data protection legislation was that it was her information and not to be told to anyone else."

They consulted on the policy with various members of their team and specialists by phone and text to try to get it right.

He said they did not tell HSE chief Mr O'Brien.

Belfast Telegraph