December 3, 2022

CervicalCheck scandal: 12 women given incorrect test results have since died

The controversial CervicalCheck programme missed opportunities to prevent or diagnose cancer earlier in 159 women, 12 of whom have since died, an independent review has found.

The report by the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) found that one-in-three of the women who were tested received the wrong smear results.

In May 2018 the Irish Government asked the RCOG to review the screening history of every woman diagnosed with cervical cancer through the CervicalCheck screening programme since it was set up in 2008. This followed the High Court case taken by Kilkenny campaigner Vicky Phelan after her diagnosis.

The aim of the review was to ensure that every woman, or her next-of-kin, taking part in the review received an independent analysis of her slide history leading up to their diagnosis.

In total, the RCOG analysed 1,659 slides from 1,038 women or their next-of-kin who consented to take part in the review. Of these, the report found 12 of the women who have died could have had their cancer treated or cured if it was diagnosed at an earlier stage.

The report states: “In 12 cases the Expert Panel felt that discordant cytology represented a missed opportunity to prevent cancer, or diagnose it at an earlier stage, which means a cure would have been more likely.”

The report went on to say it “identified missed opportunities to prevent or diagnose cancer earlier” in 159 of the 1,034 women.

It added: “In a further 149 women (15%), the RCOG review panel disagreed with the CervicalCheck slide reading, but they did not believe this had an adverse impact on the women’s outcome.

“In total, the RCOG review disagreed with the CervicalCheck result in a third of cases they analysed – 308 out of 1,034 women with cancer.”

Despite its findings, the report concluded the Irish cervical screening programme is performing effectively and that women can have confidence in the system.

Professor Henry Kitchener, Lead Assessor of the RCOG Expert Review Panel, said: “In recognising the serious consequences that screening failures have for affected women, it is important to also recognise the inability of cervical screening to prevent all cases of cervical cancer.”

He added: “There is clear evidence from falling death rates that the CervicalCheck programme is working effectively and women can have confidence in the CervicalCheck programme. Regular participation in screening remains the most effective means of protecting women from cervical cancer.”


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