CervicalCheck cancer scandal

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The CervicalCheck cancer scandal first emerged in 2018 and involved several women in the Republic of Ireland suing the Health Service Executive (HSE) after they received incorrect smear test results for cervical cancer.[1][2][3]

In 2011, Vicky Phelan, a mother of two children from Annacrotty, County Limerick, underwent a smear test for cervical cancer. Although her test showed no abnormalities, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. An internal CervicalCheck review found the original result to be incorrect, but Phelan was not informed of this fact until 2017. She sued Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, over the incorrect test. The case was settled for €2.5 million without admission of liability.[4] 14 other women in the 2014 review were also found to have 'false-negative' test results.

On 26 April 2018 the HSE confirmed that 206 women had developed cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed CervicalCheck smear test.[5] Of these, 162 had not been told that the initial results were incorrect.[6] Dr Grainne Flannelly, CervicalCheck's clinical director, stepped down on 28 April. A week earlier it was reported that Dr Flannelly had in 2017 advised a gynaecologist not to advise women about the re-evaluated test results, but to file the results instead.[7]

In response to the controversy, the Irish Department of Health announced on 8 May 2018 that a scoping inquiry was being established, to be carried out by Dr Gabriel Scally.[8]

In May, HSE director-general Tony O'Brien took temporary leave of absence from the board of a US medical company amid renewed calls for him to stand aside from his position due to the ongoing scandal.[9] Tony O'Brien announced his resignation as director-general of the HSE with effect from close of business on 11 May.[10]

On 12 September 2018 the Department of Health published Dr Scally's final report.[11] The report gathered testimony from women and families affected by the scandal, and conducted an investigation and audit of the CervicalCheck programme. It also contained 50 recommendations covering access to medical records, governance of CervicalCheck, procurement of laboratory services and revision of the HSE's open disclosure policy.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna, a terminally ill mother of five children who was one of the women given an inaccurate negative test made national media headlines in May, including an interview on Morning Ireland.[12][13] Appearing on The Late Late Show, she called for the HSE to be "dismantled and reassembled". Mhic Mhathúna died on 7 October 2018.

Vicky Phelan, a terminally ill mother of two children, whose legal case against the state was one of the catalysts for the publication of the controversy, was named as one of the BBC's 100 Women in 2018.[1][14]

Increased scrutiny into BreastCheck and BowelScreen has followed from this controversy.[15][16]

On 12 December 2018, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD published an implementation plan based on Dr Scally's report.[17] The plan set out 126 actions arising from the report's recommendations. Announcing an independent review of the plan, Minister Harris said:

I welcome [Dr Sally's] initial assessment of this Plan and his confirmation that he is satisfied that all parties are taking seriously his findings and recommendations, that resources have been allocated to take the work forward at a high level of priority, and that the proposed work programme is impressive in its commitment to making rapid progress.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Mother-of-two sues HSE for alleged cervical cancer diagnosis delay". 19 April 2018.
  2. ^ Aodha, Gráinne Ní. "CervicalCheck chief responds to test criticism: 'I'd be surprised if women didn't have questions'". Archived from the original on 14 May 2018. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  3. ^ "'I'm dying because of human error and that's disgusting'". Archived from the original on 14 May 2018. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Woman with terminal cancer gets €2.5m High Court settlement". The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. ^ "Smear test scandal: 206 women develop cancer after all-clear". Irish Independent. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  6. ^ Power, Jack. "'It isn't a helpline, it's an answering machine' - women hit out at HSE cancer phone service". The Irish Times. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  7. ^ Towey, Niamh. "Cancer controversy: director of CervicalCheck stands down". The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Scoping Inquiry established into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme and Dr Gabriel Scally appointed to lead it | Department of Health". health.gov.ie. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  9. ^ "HSE chief Tony O'Brien to take leave of absence from US board". The Irish Times. 3 May 2015. Archived from the original on 5 May 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  10. ^ "HSE boss Tony O'Brien steps down in wake of CervicalCheck scandal". Irish Independent. 10 May 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  11. ^ Scally, Gabriel; Health (DoH), Department of (12 September 2018). "Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme: final report". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Power, Jack (1 May 2018). "The doctor told me the smear results I got in 2013 were wrong". Archived from the original on 2 May 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  13. ^ Gleeson, Colin (11 May 2018). "Emma Mhic Mhathúna calls for HSE to be dismantled". Archived from the original on 12 May 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  14. ^ "100 Women 2018: What to look forward to". BBC News. 19 November 2018. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  15. ^ McQuinn, Cormac (10 May 2018). "State Claims Agency dealing with four alleged misdiagnosis cases involving BreastCheck, TDs told". Irish Independent. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  16. ^ O'Regan, Eilish (2 May 2018). "Breast and bowel tests now under scrutiny as public fear screening". Irish Independent. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  17. ^ Health (DoH), Department of (11 December 2018). "Implementation Plan for Report of the Scoping Inquiry into CervicalCheck Issues". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ "Minister Harris publishes the Implementation Plan for the recommendations of Dr Gabriel Scally on the CervicalCheck Screening Programme | Department of Health". health.gov.ie. Retrieved 11 January 2019.