Scally report: Changes ordered at cancer services

By Elaine Loughlin, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, and Catherine Shanahan

Cancer services will be ordered to make short- and long-term changes to their use of laboratories and to review the work of other screening services as part of the Scally report into the cervical cancer tests scandal.

Senior sources have confirmed that the recommendations will be made in the 200-page report alongside other wide-reaching reforms of the system’s governance structures and calls for anyone affected by errors in the future to be immediately told of what happened.

Sources said the document will focus on key changes needed to protect women.

While the report, which goes to Cabinet tomorrow, will not be released until families affected by what happened are informed, it is understood to make a series of recommendations on:

  • The laboratory services used by CervicalCheck
  • The need to review other screening services
  • Governance issues
  • Demands to ensure anyone affected by issues in the future is immediately informed through an open disclosure process

It is understood that while Government is committed to implementing as many of the recommendations as possible in the coming months, some may take longer to introduce than others due to the complex issues involved.

The report, drawn up by independent expert Gabriel Scally, was sent to the Department of Health last Friday before being examined by attorney general Séamus Woulfe.

Health Minister Simon Harris met Dr Scally yesterday to be briefed about its contents and is expected to bring it to Cabinet for publication approval tomorrow.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that three of the most high-profile people affected by the cervical cancer tests scandal will be briefed on the contents of the Scally report at the same time as the Cabinet meeting tomorrow. They are Tipperary woman Vicky Phelan, whose High Court case uncovered the scandal; Cork man Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer; and Galway woman Lorraine Walsh, who received an incorrect smear test result.

Mr Teap told the Irish Examiner last night he “welcomes the fact the briefing is taking place”.

However, concerns have been raised that, for practicality reasons, not all of the families affected will be told of the findings before the document is published.

The developments emerged as the HSE last night said negotiations with the two US laboratories which carried out the majority of the tests for CervicalCheck are “at a critical stage”.

The contracts for the work conducted by Quest Diagnostics in New Jersey and Medlab Pathology in Dublin are due to expire next month.

While there have been repeated calls for the firms to not have their contracts extended due to the seriousness of the scandals, it has been noted that ending the agreements immediately may leave the CervicalCheck system in a precarious situation.

It is understood the laboratories have assessed the financial risk in light of the legal cases taken against them over the CervicalCheck controversy and want the State to underwrite them if they are to extend their contracts.