Ireland Investigates Cervical Cancer Screening Scandal

In 2011, Ms. Phelan was given a negative result after a smear test taken that year was negative, but a second test done in 2014 revealed a diagnosis of cancer. Her previous negative test was then reviewed, in accordance with standing procedure, and was found to have in fact strongly indicated the presence of cancer.

“If she had been diagnosed in 2011, there would have been a 95 percent chance of a cure,” said her lawyer, Cian O’Carroll. “Instead she is left with what is now an incurable cancer.”

In 2014, a review found that 208 women had received false negative results since 2010, but only 46 of those women were informed.

Ireland Investigates Cervical Cancer Screening Scandal
Ireland Investigates Cervical Cancer Screening Scandal

Ms. Phelan only learned of the earlier false result last September. In January, she was told she had only six months to a year to live.

Dr. Grainne Flannelly, the clinical director of the government-run CervicalCheck program, which provides free smear tests to women between 25 and 60, resigned over the weekend.

“I am sorry that recent events caused distress and worry to women,” she said in a statement. “I have decided to step aside to allow the program to continue its important work.”

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Emails released in the Phelan case showed that the CervicalCheck program had advised some doctors not to tell their patients about the 2014 review, arguing that finding out about the false negatives would not affect their current treatment.

In addition, there was a dispute between the program and the doctors over whose responsibility it was to inform the affected patients.

In all, some 1,400 women developed cervical cancer after previously testing negative in smear tests during the 2010-2014 period. In most of those cases, the earlier tests were found to have been correctly conducted and analyzed — the cancer had developed later — but in the 208 identified cases, reviews of the earlier tests found clear signs of cancer that had been missed. The women in the 208 cases should have been referred for full diagnostic testing.

Mr. O’Carroll, the lawyer for Ms. Phelan, said that the Health Service Executive, the Irish government body that oversees the screening program, and CPL, which were joint defendants in her case, had pursued a prolonged and aggressive defense, demanding that she prove she had suffered actual loss from the delayed diagnosis, and making her spend three days in court before they settled. He also said that they had also tried to get her to accept a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement, but that she had refused.

The settlement did not involve an admission of liability. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a very hard thing to do when you are literally dying, and you are being told that the case will take weeks in court and there will be no chance of a settlement,” Mr. O’Carroll said. “She said, ‘I don’t care what happens, I’m not going to agree to a confidentiality agreement.’ If she had, none of this would have come out.”

Ms Phelan told the Irish radio presenter Ray D’Arcy last week that she hoped to leave much of her settlement to her husband and two children, and use the rest to access experimental treatments that might prolong her remaining time with them.

It was not clear if the Texas company was the only one associated with the 208 mistaken test results, as Irish smear tests have at times been outsourced to a number of companies.

An emergency help line for women who are worried about the reliability of their smear tests went online on Saturday morning, and was reported to have received several thousand calls in the first few days.

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