The Minister for Health has apologised to Vicky Phelan, who was given incorrect cancer test results and is now terminally ill, and promised to take action to learn from what happened.

Simon Harris also apologised to Ms Phelan’s family, and said that she had gone through unimaginable pain.

He said he wanted some good to come from her horrific experience, and there would be swift action to ensure this happens.

Earlier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney apologised in the Dáil to Ms Phelan, saying her case marks "a shameful series of events".

It comes in the wake of a High Court settlement to the 43-year-old.

Ms Phelan was diagnosed with cancer three years after her smear test results of 2011 were incorrectly reported as clear of abnormalities.

By the time she had another smear test in 2014 she had cervical cancer.

The court heard from Professor John Shepherd, a retired consultant gynecological oncologist, who said Ms Phelan’s test was "one of a number of smears that had been reviewed and found to be wanting".

She was given six to 12 months to live in January this year.

Ms Phelan, of Carrigeen, Annacotty, Co Limerick along with her husband Jim Phelan has sued the Health Service Executive and Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, over the smear test taken under  CervicalCheck and analysed in a US laboratory.

Yesterday, the court was told the case had settled and the case against the HSE could be struck out with no order.

The settlement with the US laboratory for €2.5m was made without admission of liability.

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The case was raised in Dáil during Leaders' Question today by Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary.

He asked: "What will change as a result of what we know now as a consequence of the bravery and courage of Vicky Phelan?"

Mr Coveney said: "This is a shameful series of events, particularly in terms of information flow. The tragedy and challenges Vicky Phelan and her family are facing now have been made all the more difficult because of the failings in terms of the passing on of information.

"And for that I want to apologise to her and to her family."

Mr Coveney also stressed the importance of maintaining confidence in the national cervical cancer screening service.

He said that there will be changes as a result of what has happened.

Elsewhere, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his sympathies to Ms Phelan and he urged women to still participate in the cervical screening programme.

He said Government policy and the law is open disclosure, which means doctors have a duty of candour to inform patients of test results and that is what the Government expects to see happen. 

The Clinical Director of the National Screening Programme, CervicalCheck has said that an external review of the programme would be welcomed. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Professor Grainne Flannelly said that the programme is constantly trying to improve and women should be assured that it is working.

However, she warned there is not a screening programme in the world that can prevent all cancers.

She said: "We would welcome an external review of any or all aspects of our cervical screening programme.

"Women should be reassured by our programme - it is working. Cervical cancer rates are falling by 7% per year. We are constantly trying to improve.

"There is no such thing as a perfect screening programme, but we have a cervical screening programme that can hold its head among the best screening programmes of the world."

Professor Flannelly acknowledged that it took a long time, longer than anticipated, to establish the review process.

She said the reviews took less time now and most cases are closed within a six month period.

However, she added, the programme regrets, acknowledges and apologises to Ms Phelan, that it had taken so long in her case.

Information from smear test review given to physicians

The Director of the National Cancer Control Programme has said all information from a 2014 clinical review of smear tests has been given to treating physicians.

Dr Jerome Coffey, a radio-oncology consultant at St Luke’s, Beaumont and the Mater, said on RTÉ's Morning Ireland that he did not know if all patients have been informed, because that is a matter for their physicians.

He said that in an era of open disclosure there is a need to make all information available - if requested - and to inform patients that the information exists.

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Dr Coffey said it is crucially important that women continue to register for and attend the cervical check programme.

Fundamentally, he said, it was a strong, well-organised and well-resourced programme.

Dr Coffey said that the best available test for screening for cervical cancer is a smear test, but it is not the perfect test.

In a statement, the HSE says that since 2010 the screening history of every woman diagnosed with cervical cancer who participated with the CervicalCheck programme has been reviewed. 

It said that the outcomes of the review would have been sent to the woman's treating doctor, with advice to use their clinical judgment to communicate the outcome of the review. 

The HSE said that while it is "confident that the majority of women involved in this process have already been contacted by their doctor, CervicalCheck is today writing to those doctors who were originally requested to contact patients confirm that this has occurred. 

"We are seeking to ensure that this will take place in an expedient manner."

Minister Harris said he has told the HSE and CervicalCheck to come up with a system to ensure that women are from now on automatically told the outcome of any audit.

The Minister also announced that he has asked the Director General of the HSE to review the operation of CervicalCheck against best international practice.

Elsewhere, the Public Accounts Committee is to write to the Health Service Executive, the Department of Health and the company involved in the Vicky Phelan case in order to clarify procedures around informing patients. 

The chair of the committee, Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming, said the case had repercussions for the State Claims Agency, which is under the PAC's remit.

He also said the failure to inform Ms Phelan was at odds with the policy of open disclosure. 

The matter was raised by Sinn Féin's David Cullinane who said there was "process and procedure failures" and there would be a cost to the State.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said the aim was to move towards open disclosure, and huge amounts were being spent on legal procedures.  

"There was clearly a systems failure... The company needs to show what the standard procedure they have in place in case of break down in the system," Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said.

She said there had to be confidence in the system, and she herself was booking in for a re-test as a result.