Debacle jpg

Smear test debacle leads to resignation

Health Minister Simon Harris.


By Anthony Neeson

Two women who were given incorrect smear test results and now have terminal cancer have welcomed the resignation of the director general of the Health Service Executive.

Tony O’Brien stepped down from his post as pressure mounted on him, after a second woman, Emma Mhic Mhatúna (27) went public with her story.

Mr. O’Brien was also facing criticism after the release to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee of three memos he received two years ago on the cervical screening audit finding, which were not passed on to the women concerned in many cases.

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It has emerged that 209 women could have received an earlier intervention. Of the 209 women, 17 are dead.

Limerick woman Vicky Phelan, whose High Court case brought the scandal to the public’s attention this month, welcomed the decision.

“A win is a win as far as I’m concerned,” she said, speaking on TV 3.

“It’s a small victory for women, I think it’s the beginning of a cultural shift. I think there will be more people losing their jobs as a result.”

Mother of five Emma Mhic Mhatúna from Kerry, said: “The sense of joy is incalculable. It just shows the people of Ireland are amazing when we stand together and there’s only so much we can take.”

As the controversy continues, protests are planned for Dublin and this weekend in the home town of Minister for Health Simon Harris, Greystones, County Wicklow.

Speaking for the group organizing the Greystones protest, Chris Allen said: “I just feel that women in Greystones have a responsibility of some sort because we are in Simon Harris’s backyard.

“We are hoping that there will be an understanding that people have had enough of it. That there are husbands and children left to manage without a wife or mother. We hope it will lead to a new understanding.”

Meanwhile, RTE reported that the U.S. laboratory that settled a High Court action taken by Vicky Phelan over her incorrect smear test results has said that what happened to Ms. Phelan and her family was tragic and that it deeply regrets the outcome.

In a statement to RTÉ News, the Texas-based Clinical Pathology Laboratories said that it hopes the settlement reached will allow Ms. Phelan to gain additional treatment and an improved prognosis and quality of life.

CPL said it is one of two U.S., and two Irish laboratories, that have provided Pap smear testing for the Irish cervical screening program since 2008.

The company, according to the RTE report, added that these screens had been performed through manual examinations of individual slides, without the benefit of computer-based imaging and a separate HPV test, which together comprise the clinical standard in the U.S. and many other countries for cervical cancer screening.

CPL said that since 2008 more than three million screening tests were performed by it and the three other labs contracted by the HSE.

The company said this testing was performed to the highest quality standards but despite this, it is internationally recognized that no screening program is one hundred percent effective and all have an inherent margin for error.

CPL said the results of cervical cancer screens conducted by its lab and the three others are well above the accepted accuracy rate for the type of screening specified by the HSE and have been continuously monitored and repeatedly endorsed by Irish health authorities and U.S. agencies.