Comment: Touch of déja vu to latest health scandal

Comment: Touch of déja vu to latest health scandal

The cervical screening scandal has a touch of deja vu about it.

Once again we are presented with a situation where a sizeable group of women (206 is the stated figure) find themselves seeking to discover the truth regarding their health care.

There's echoes of the Hepatitis C scandal here and, unfortunately for some of the people affected, it is apparently too late.

One of the most regrettable things is how needless all of this is.

The CervicalCheck screening programme is a good and necessary service, and one that people should have confidence in.

Vicky Phelan herself has stated that she does not wish to turn people away from screening.

Since 2008, the programme has detected more than 50,000 pre-cancerous changes in women without any symptoms, thereby reducing the risk to them substantively.

However, confidence in the programme has been severely undermined, to put it mildly, by the manner in which erroneous or uncertain test results were dealt with.

Experts in the field all point out that screening programmes such as these aren't alway 100 per cent accurate. That's a given.

To minimise errors which genuinely occur a range of options are available including repeat screenings.

However, when and if errors do occur the principle of open disclosure needs to kick in.

This is fundamental to patient interest and good and effective healthcare.

In the case of Vicky Phelan it took six years for her to be informed about an incorrect test result and there are reportedly 200 other women diagnosed with cervical cancer who should have received earlier interventions.

Vicky Phelan's situation was further compounded when she was forced into protracted litigation in an effort to seek redress and highlight what occurred.

This is a scandal - an appalling breach of trust and a low moment for the State.

It's all the worst considering previous episodes in which patients were not dealt with in an open and honest manner.

Healthcare needs to operate in an environment of full candour and transparency, common sense alone would suggest this.

To ensure this it is now apparent that open disclosure is codified in law, as to rely on the voluntary use of it does not seem to work.

The Department of Health has indicated that is is planning new legislation which would make mandatory open disclosure to patients.

Let's hope so.

No one should have to go through the ordeal that Vicky Phelan has endured and which other people now find themselves in.