The chairman of the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy has criticised the way in which essential documents have been provided to him.
According to Dr Gabriel Scally, he had requested documents from CervicalCheck, the HSE, the Department of Health and the State Claims Agency. However, over 4,000 documents only arrived between June 6 and 8, and more are due in the next few weeks.
Furthermore, many of the documents were provided in a non-digital format that is not searchable, making the task even more difficult.
"It is evident that a significant proportion of the documentation provided in electronic format comprises scanned documents from hard copy format, which renders them non-searchable and, in some cases, difficult to read.
"It is disappointing and unclear why documents that would originally have been prepared in electronic format (including some very recent documents) are not available to the inquiry in that format, rather than as a scanned version of the printed copy," he commented.
He said that it is his intention to request ‘that an explanation is given for this and where necessary to request that documentation be re-sent in searchable Word or PDF format that assists search functions and guarantees the integrity of the documentation'.
As a result of this, Dr Scally pointed out that he will not be able to provide a final inquiry report by the end of June, as previously promised. This work is now expected to take the entire summer.
He made his comments following the publication of two reports into the controversy, which saw 209 women having their diagnoses of cervical cancer withheld.
The first report was on one of the terms of reference and the other was a progress report. Dr Scally made six recommendations in these reports, which the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has said he ‘accepts in full'.
The recommendations include:
-The immediate provision of an ex gratia payment of €2,000 to each of the women involved, and to the next of kin of women who have already died. This money is to ensure that women do not encounter any financial obstacles when taking part in the inquiry and any resulting Commission of Inquiry
-The provision of a more comprehensive guide to the CervicalCheck screening programme online
-That the information statements provided to women about the limitations of smear tests should be more explicit about the possible reasons why screening might miss abnormalities that are present, as these can result in the development of cervical cancer
-That the information for women accompanying the consent form should guarantee that should there be a problem or error of any significance with the screening or reporting process, open disclosure of all the details will take place in a timely, considerate and accurate manner.
In relation to the €2,000 payment, Minister Harris said that he is making arrangements for it now and added that it will ‘not be a bar to further payments in due course'.
"Dr Scally has assured me that he will continue to provide reports as they are completed, so that we can continue to provide answers as soon as they are established," he said.
Dr Scally's two reports can be viewed here