The Government today agreed a comprehensive package of health and social care measures to support the 209 women and their families, who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and whose audit result differed from their original smear test. The Government will ensure that these women and their families are supported to the fullest extent possible.
The Government has also announced that the State Claims Agency is advancing a new initiative aimed at expediting resolution of the nine outstanding legal cases in a sensitive manner utilising mediation wherever possible.
- The health and social care measures include:
- a discretionary medical card for each woman affected, or their next of kin in cases where the woman has sadly died, so that they can avail of health services, including medicines provided under the medical card scheme, free of charge;
- out-of-pocket medical costs incurred including the cost of any medicines which have been prescribed by their treating clinician;
- primary care supports, including counselling for the women affected. Also counselling services for the immediate family members of these women, including bereavement counselling where needed;
- other health and social care supports, including travel costs and childminding.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:
There is nothing we can say to lessen the pain and suffering of the women at the centre of this controversy. Words cannot ease the anguish they are experiencing, or the unimaginable distress of their young children, their partners, and their loved ones, who have been devastated by what has occurred.
As a Government it is our duty to make sure that we honour their bravery with action, and do all we can to restore confidence and offer help, care and assistance to those affected.
The fundamental rule of medicine, of public health care, should always be to put the patient first and to never do harm. I want to say to the women of Ireland, on behalf of the Government, that we are determined to find out all the facts, put things right and restore confidence in cancer screening and our health service.
Today the Cabinet agreed a range of actions to provide care and support for all the women affected, and their families. We have also agreed that all outstanding legal actions will be dealt with sensitively utilising mediation wherever possible. The Government will be strong and decisive in finding out what happened and putting changes in place to ensure it never happens again.
Health Minister Simon Harris said:
The Government’s main priority today is supporting these women and their families at a hugely difficult time in their lives. This package of measures will provide that practical support. I have asked the HSE to set up a central office and to identify one point of contact to help these women and their families access these supports. The women and families will be able to discuss their needs and get straightforward access to the supports they need at local level, without delay. I will issue a direction to the HSE today on foot of today’s decision and expect operation arrangements to begin next week.
The impact on these women and families of the lack of disclosure, transparency and sharing of information has been devastating, and has added to the distress and huge difficulty they are already experiencing as a result of their cancer diagnosis. The package of support measures we are announcing today cannot undo the hurt, but will at least ensure that their health and social care needs will be met and that women and families will be supported through counselling and practical assistance.
The National Cancer Screening Service will now write to each of the 209 women, or their next of kin, apologising for the failures in relation to disclosure and setting out the actions being taken by the HSE to address the issues identified.
I will also ask the HSE to introduce HPV testing as the primary screening method for prevention of cervical cancer as soon as possible. It will result in fewer false negative results.
My priority and my focus remains on getting to the truth of what happened, ensuring that women affected are being contacted and supported, and rebuilding confidence in the life-saving CervicalCheck screening programme.