Cervical cancer tests compensation cost will exceed €32m

State officials have admitted the cervical cancer tests compensation cost will exceed the €32million price of delivering the service but have refused to reveal an exact figure amid claims that victims will use it to increase their demands.

The State Claims Agency (SCA) and the HSE outlined the situation during a detailed meeting in which they separately confirmed some women are being forced to wait at least 20 weeks to receive follow-up smear tests.

At a day-long Dáil public accounts committee meeting, HSE director of national services Damien McCallion confirmed the €32.1m yearly cost of providing the cervical cancer tests service.

However, despite telling Independent TD Catherine Connolly the predicted pay-outs were likely to exceed the rate, SCA director Ciaran Breen refused to provide the State's expected figure.

Citing what he claimed are "commercially sensitive" reasons, Mr Breen said if he revealed the likely compensation costs, it could be used by the lawyers for some women affected and possibly the US laboratories involved.

However, after Ms Connolly demanded a general breakdown, asking: "Am I way off in saying it will cost more", Mr Breen said: "No, I don't think you are. If you look at it broadly, I would say, yes, you're probably right."

Asked again why no specific figure will be released, Mr Breen said "there has in the past been an over-statement of legal costs by plaintiffs' lawyers" generally, adding: "That's a fact."

During a separate exchange with Sinn Féin's David Cullinane, Mr Breen repeated: "The reason I don't want to set that [the figure] out is that it's very commercially sensitive information."

Noting the fact "there are lawyers involved", he said the individual case costs are "complex" and it would be wrong to give a top-line figure.

Mr Breen told the PAC on a number of occasions "we do employ compassion" in relation to compensation case claims and stressed the SCA's only role is to ensure taxpayers' money is only spent on appropriate levels of payouts.

However, he was further criticised by Social Democrats' Catherine Murphy and Labour's Alan Kelly, who revealed some women were being forced to wait up to 20 weeks for smear test follow-up checks.

In an initial response, HSE director of national services Damien McCallion said the timeline was short. But when pressed by TDs Ms Murphy and Mr Kelly, Mr McCallion admitted some women were waiting more than 20 weeks and there is a backlog of 80,000 cases.

Ms Murphy further noted some women seeking medical smear test files, they are entitled to receive, were being told to wait seven weeks or longer.

However, Mr McCallion conceded "the average turnaround time was 22 days".

The comment was noted by Ms Murphy who said it raised issues over how people at risk of health errors had been treated by the State.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

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