Smear test error woman who is terminally ill urges Irish health service overhaul

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A terminally ill woman who cast light on Ireland’s cervical screening controversy has called for a radical overhaul of the Irish health service, insisting she does not want to die in vain.

Mother-of-two Vicky Phelan, whose smear test was wrongly interpreted, told a parliamentary committee looking into patients impacted by the issue that health officials need to be held accountable.

“I’m not interested in revenge,” Ms Phelan said. “That’s not what I’m here for.”

“I want to make sure there are protocols put in place where sanctions for people who make this mistake are held accountable and that the HSE is overhauled from the ground up so that people are held accountable and that this never happens again in any shape or form,” she said.

Last month, Ms Phelan settled a High Court action for 2.5 million euro (£2.2 million) after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

In 2014, she was diagnosed with cancer but only told of the false negative last September.

Stephen Teap, from Co Cork, whose wife Irene died last year after two undisclosed false tests, also addressed the committee on Wednesday evening.

Mr Teap expressed his anger that he has only been informed in the past two weeks and that his wife died without ever knowing that her smear tests had been wrongly interpreted.

Mr Teap said there was a clear lack of open disclosure and that communication was a clearly an issue.

“I have to give nursing staff credit who took really good care of my wife, clearly up the ladder patient care is diluted and protect, deny is introduced and that is basically what we’ve been seeing in the last few weeks when he comes to this communication or the lack of communication that we’re being fed.”

Earlier this month it emerged that an audit by the Cervical Check screening programme of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in earlier smear tests in 209 of the cases, with results showing no abnormalities when they should have flagged a cancer warning. Of the 209 women, 18 have since died.

The crisis has already seen the boss of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) Tony O’Brien resign.

Mr O’Brien resigned hours after it emerged that an internal HSE briefing note that flagged potential errors in screening tests in 2016 stressed the need for a media strategy to respond to stories of women whose cancer diagnosis was missed.

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