By Daniel McConnell and Ann O’Loughlin
Health Minister Simon Harris has been called to intervene as 88 women and their families affected by the CervicalCheck scandal are yet to receive their medical files despite requesting them.
Some of the women are said to be extremely ill with not long left to live.
It has emerged that since the start of the year, 204 women affected by the scandal, some of whom are extremely ill, or their families, have requested their files. Yet, according to Damien McCallion, director with the National Screening Service, only 116 have received them.
Since the Vicky Phelan case came to prominence, the Government promised to do “all it can” to help women affected by the controversy.
Mr McCallion was responding to queries from Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South Central, Michael McGrath, who has expressed his outrage at the delay.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he called on Mr Harris to intervene as quickly as possible.
“I think it is imperative that the minister steps in and ensures the files are provided immediately,” said Mr McGrath.
“The women and their families are entitled to this information. In some cases, we are almost certainly dealing with women who are in very serious ill health and have a very bad prognosis and in other cases, we are dealing with next of kin.
“Despite promises of swift action from Government, it is clear the women at the heart of this scandal and their families continue to be punished.”
He said he made inquiries after he heard that some women and their next of kin are struggling to get the information they asked for.
“This needs to be prioritised,” said Mr McGrath. “On one level, the Government appears to be making the right noises, but when it comes to delivery the Government has been lacking. The fact that 88 cases remain outstanding... we need them to get their information as quickly as possible.”
He was also critical of the “cold” nature of the response from Mr McCallion.
“It is a very matter-of-fact response — just the numbers but no explanation given,” said Mr McGrath. “I was surprised they gave no explanation to set out the context of the response. They didn’t give any indication as to when these 88 files will be provided. So it is a quite cold response. But this is in the name of the minister, as I tabled a parliamentary question, so I take this as his response.”
In response, the HSE said it is committed to establish a team to address requests for records and smear results.
“We have put this in place and prioritised those cases for critically ill women,” it said. “In addition, we have put a protocol in place to ensure the safe transition of smears between laboratories as requested by women and their legal representatives.
“We continue to try and shorten those timeframes to support women. This is a complex retrieval process through systems, emails correspondences and hospitals.
“To illustrate progress since the PQ was addressed the number of records release to support legal requests is now at 65 out of 109 requests. There are another 12 record packs due to be released on Tuesday.”
Another 15 requests have been responded to requiring further clarifications, it said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mr Harris said he and the Government have been very clear that all documents should be provided to the women or their next of kin. He has received assurances from the HSE that they are working to make this happen and that information is being provided within 30 days and quicker where possible.
In relation to settling cases, the minister and the Government want to see cases settled where at all possible through mediation and note this process has now started through the State Claims Agency.
The news comes as a woman who has terminal cancer and sued over CervicalCheck smears has settled her High Court action.
This is the first case to be resolved since the CervicalCheck smear test controversy erupted and Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled her court case for €2.5m.