You will be aware of the serious issues concerning the CervicalCheck Screening Programme over the last week. I am writing to you to keep you informed on what has happened to date in relation to the CervicalCheck audit and also to let you know the next steps being taken in relation to this matter.
As the nation’s public health service, we are committed to protecting women’s health and to always sharing information relating to their care with the individual. During the CervicalCheck audit our standards fell far short of this which is not acceptable and has understandably caused significant concern amongst the public we serve. I have made contact with Vicky Phelan to express my apologies for this to her directly and I have extended my apology to all those for whom worry or concern has resulted from this issue.
The HSE Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) has been working to uncover the details over the course of the last week and will continue to do so as the situation evolves. You can read the SIMT report here and review a detailed outline of what we know has happened so far.
Over 3 million cervical screening tests have been performed in Ireland since 2008, and over 50,000 cases of pre-cancer and cancer have been detected and treated following cervical screening. Approximately 3,000 women in Ireland have been diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008, and approximately half of these cases were notified to CervicalCheck and subjected to a clinical audit.
At this point it is clear that there has been a very serious breakdown in communicating to the women concerned about CervicalCheck’s audit was happening, and the outcomes of the audit. All those affected, who were not previously made aware of this, are now being contacted. The HSE SIMT is also working with the National Cancer Registry to identify other women who have had cervical cancer during this time, and who may have been part of the cervical screening programme, and should be included in the audit of historical screening tests, and will review these if needed. Anyone affected by this will be notified.
If you are concerned about your, or a loved ones’ cervical health, you will find advice and information now available for women on cervicalcheck.ie. This includes our clinical advice to women who have had normal smear test results in the past that a new screening test is not clinically needed. If, following a consultation with your GP, you remain concerned you can access a new free screening test via CervicalCheck.
We also provide information for women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and will continue to provide information and updates as available on cervicalcheck.ie over the coming days and weeks.
In addition Dr Peter McKenna, Clinical Director of the National Women and Infants’ Health Programme, has recorded a video offering advice for anyone who may be concerned. You can watch this here.
Yesterday I appointed Damien McCallion, National Director, to lead the National Cancer Screening Service through this challenging time. While much work has been done in recent days to identify what has happened and to make contact with all those affected, this is an evolving issue and we have much more to do to rebuild trust and confidence in our national cervical screening programme.
The Government has indicated its intention to establish a statutory investigation into these matters. We will comply fully with this so that we can understand why this happened and how we can improve.
This The HSE supports open disclosure and believes that information should always be shared with patients relating to their care. Every staff member should be aware of this policy and further information is available here.
In carrying out the CervicalCheck audit the actions taken were not in line with our values of care and compassion. This is not acceptable and, I believe, not what any of us wants in the health service. We are committed to learning from this and rebuilding trust and confidence in the nation’s CervicalCheck Programme. I would encourage you at this stage to ensure that you are familiar with the open disclosure policy and that you practice this in your actions.
Thank you to everyone who is working to support the Screening Service and the wider health service during this crisis.