Updated: 01/05/18 : 13:41:32
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CervicalCheck programme not seeking to withhold cancer diagnoses information - O'Brien

The Director General of the Health Service Executive has said there is no question of anyone in the CervicalCheck programme seeking to withhold information about cancer diagnoses.

Tony O'Brien said the clinical review of cases was triggered by cases of cancer.

He said the controversy is not about poor laboratory performance but a communications problem around an audit process.

He added that the HSE's corporate policy was to be open and he is unambiguously in favour of a mandatory duty of candour.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr O'Brien said it is an issue of concern and disappointment that he was not informed of Vicky Phelan's case, but this is secondary to the work of the serious management team, dealing with cases and restoring confidence in the CervicalCheck programme.

He said that a case management will be undertaken to find out why Ms Phelan's case was not escalated in the way it should have been.

He also said the fact that he used to be the director of CervicalCheck, makes this quite personal for him.

By international benchmarks, Mr O'Brien said, the labs were performing as they should be and were subject to high quality standards.

In addition, he said that the US labs are only dealing with Irish patients and Irish smear tests are not being mixed in with a greater cohort of US patients, who are tested yearly.

The smear test is not, he stressed, a diagnostic test but a screening one and there is no laboratory in the world that can provide 100% accuracy on that type of cytologology.

Mr O'Brien explained that liability arising from an error, outside the exceptional margin of error, would lie with the laboratory.

He said the HSE is working hard to restore confidence in the programme.

This included, he said, new clinical governance and the establishment of a helpline to offer reassurance to women.

Anyone, he said, that wanted their case to be re-examined would be accommodated.

He said the explanations by Professor Grainne Flannelly, the former Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, while not satisfactory, were the truth.

He said she stood down because she is deeply committed to the programme and wanted to help restore confidence in it.

Mr O'Brien said there would not be a programme without her commitment over the last number of years.

He said he spoke to Professor Flannelly at length before she announced her resignation.