The woman whose court case brought the CervicalCheck controversy to public attention has said she wants to see a Commission of Investigation that is urgent, prompt and public.

Vicky Phelan also said on Twitter that too much has happened behind closed doors.

She was tweeting after the director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the State has a duty to provide an effective investigation into the screening scandal because there are potentially serious human rights issues at stake.

It emerged last night that the Government is likely to establish a preliminary scoping inquiry, followed by a Commission of Investigation, into the cervical smear controversy.

It follows a meeting between Minister for Health Simon Harris and Opposition parties. An international expert is likely to lead the inquiry.

Mr Harris said that, as part of its work, the scoping inquiry should speak to Ms Phelan.

He also said a mechanism should be put in place where other woman affected by the controversy can also contribute to the inquiry if they want to do so.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Liam Herrick head of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said some of these issues can be addressed by a scoping exercise, but some will require a public element to the investigations and that the affected people should be involved in the investigation.

Mr Herrick said that, given the subject matter, some of those affected "have a particular interest in urgency and promptness".

He added that the subject matter was not just about violations of people's health, but the State's apparent refusal to provide information to people about their health.

Mr Herrick said there have been a number of difficulties in recent years with Commissions of Investigations that have been held in private.

Ms Phelan's solicitor, Cian O'Carroll, also speaking on Morning Ireland, said he believes any investigation into the scandal should be held in public.

Mr O'Carroll said he "would be wary" of going down a tribunal route, but that any alternative must guarantee that the information that comes out, the details of wrong doing are revealed and that women, if they wanted, are allowed to tell their story.

"We've had a number of serious scandals in our health system. This one goes to affect so many people that I think it does justify an open public forum :even if it does take longer, even if it  costs more money," said Mr O'Carroll.

Fianna Fáil's health spokesperson has said it is important that any investigation is carried out quickly.

Stephen Donnelly said he believes that a preliminary investigation, to decide on the non-disclosure issues and to be lead by an international expert, will be completed by June.

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, he said he believed the investigation would involve three strands - a preliminary investigation, a full case review of the 208 women whose smear tests were part of a clinical audit and a look back at all 3,000 cases.

Mr Donnelly said he believes there are 11 other cases, similar to that of Ms Phelan, and he will be very disappointed if there are more than that. 


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Meanwhile, over 7,500 calls have been received by the CervicalCheck information line since it opened last Saturday.

The HSE has also made contact with 181 of the 208 women who had audits carried out on their smear tests.

Following the consultations between Minister Harris and Opposition parties, a dual approach to the issue looks likely.

The scoping inquiry would have a central role in setting the terms of reference of a Commission of Investigation which would examine the issue.

The HSE's Chief Medical Officer has said there is no information coming out that would undermine confidence in negative test results women have received under the screening programme.

Speaking at a media briefing by the clinical expert panel at the Royal College of Physicians Tony Holohan said the screening programme has led to a 7% annual decrease in cervical cancer, whereas the previous unco-ordinated screening had had no impact.

State Claims Agency gives quarterly updates to Govt

Politically, attention is also turning to the State Claims Agency and its handling of Vicky Phelan's court case.

Both the Finance Committee and the Public Accounts Committee want representatives to appear before them.

The agency - which has ten active cases connected to the controversy - issued a statement this week stating that it does not intend to fully defend similar cases where the State is substantially responsible.

The Secretary General at the Department of An Taoiseach has told the PAC that the Government is given quarterly reports from the agency listing all upcoming sensitive court cases.

Martin Fraser said the Government is kept informed of such cases, but added he did not want to create the impression that people knew about the cases at the centre of the CervicalCheck controversy.

Replying to a question by Fianna Fáil’s Marc McSharry, Mr Fraser said there are procedures for letting the Governemnt know in advance of anything that might cause a problem.

Deputy MacSharry asked if updates of the 11 CervicalCheck cases were given to Government and if there is a pathway of communication between the agency and the Government over such cases.

Mr Fraser said that he cannot breach Cabinet confidentiality, but added that he did not want to create the impression that people knew about the cases that Mr McSharry was talking about.

Donal Buggy of the Irish Cancer Society says there is a need for clear information and that he is concerned for the women who are affected by this issue and by the one-in-five women who do not avail of a free smear test.

Dr Tony Holohan said the fact Vicky Phelan and others were not told of their false negative tests shows the open disclosure policy was not working properly but he did not believe a mandatory disclosure policy would have led to better disclosure.

He said there is no evidence that the clinical standards at the CervicalCheck programme were not being reached but he said the fact that information was not being passed on to patients was not known outside the programme.

He became aware of it only on Thursday and when it became known publicly the response was swift.

He says again there is no evidence that the programme fell below expected standards as a screening programme.
 

Additional reporting Conor McMorrow