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'There is a chance of a cure from this drug' - Vicky Phelan says drug has reduced size of her tumour

Update - 2.25pm: Vicky Phelan has said that the HSE has "downright ignored" the failure of the CervicalCheck screening programme.

Saying the system has failed, Ms Phelan said that the seriousness of the failure of the screening programme has been downplayed by the HSE.

Vicky told the Today with Miriam programme on RTÉ Radio 1 that women with cervical cancer and other cancers should have access to the drug pembrolizumab.

She said: "At the moment it's the HSE making decisions on who gets access to this drug based on their cancer type.

[quote]"This drug needs to be given to people based on the test having been done," she said.[/quote]

Ms Phelan took the PDL1 test, which shows how her tumour would respond to the drug, and she tested over 75%.

She said: "A course of chemotherapy costs almost the same as this drug. Chemotherapy doesn't cure cervical cancer, we know this.

"There is a chance of a cure from this drug."

Vicky told Miriam that she has spoken to Gabriel Scally this morning who is still waiting on 2,000 files and that everything is going through the lawyers.

She said the files are "heavily redacted" and that it is "scandalous" that we are still no nearer the truth months down the line.

10.59am: CervicalCheck case numbers rise again, PAC hears

The number of cases involved in the cervical check scandal has risen to 221, writes Daniel McConnell.

Officials from the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) are before the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee to update TDs on the handling of the scandal since it broke in May, after the Vicky Phelan case came to public prominence.

Vicky Phelan.

There were tetchy exchanges between PAC members who felt they were being “given the runaround” by HSE in terms of information being revealed.

Committee members also heard that there are now 35 active legal cases, three cases have been settled and there are two potential cases. This represents an increase of nine cases since the last update two weeks ago.

PAC members, including Labour's Alan Kelly and Sinn Féin's David Cullinane, sought answers as to why there have been delays to the release of smear slides to patients.

Mr Kelly sought answers as to why an external legal firm has been engaged to formalise a legal protocol as to the release of slides, all of which is delaying the release of information to terminally ill women.

The Acting Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, Peter McKenna, said the audit process has been suspended because it came in for a huge amount of criticism. It did not involve full disclosure but Catherine Connnolly expressed her dismay at its suspension.

[quote]Mr McKenna said no one's treatment has been delayed because of the audit's suspension.[/quote]

He said the issue was when do you move from an acceptable rate of failure in diagnosis to an unacceptable rate of failure.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy asked about why several months on are women are still waiting for their files from the HSE and the labs affected.

As reported in the Irish Examiner, 88 women or their families have yet to recieve their medical files despite requesting them.

Acting Director General of the HSE John Connaghan said a 30-day turn around period for files was largely being adhered to.

Under questions from PAC Chairman Sean Fleming, the HSE admitted that when files were being returned from labs it contracted to the patient's doctor, in cases where samples were clear, there was no oversight at CervicalCheck level, despite them “writing the cheque”.

8.57am: Independent review of cervical smear slides not begun yet, over two months after completion deadline

Department of Health officials have also confirmed an independent review of more than 3,000 smear tests, which was due to be finished by May, has not been started yet.

Tracey Conroy from the Department of Health says the review won't be completed in time to help the Scally Report into what happened at CervicalCheck.

Ms Conroy said: "It was actually never intended that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) review would be completed in advance of the Scally Review.

[quote]"It was clear from the outset actually, in terms of engagement with RCOG that, given the complexities of the review that the kind of timeframe RCOG were talking about was four to six months."[/quote]

The department said that the "preparatory work ahead of actually looking at the slides, is underway and has been for a number of weeks".

They said that "required resources are currently being scoped, identified and put in place" by the HSE and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The Royal College is to carry out the review with the help of experts from the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.

The Terms of Reference, which have not yet been published, have been agreed upon, as has its scope.

The department said that a "large body of work" is to be carried out before the slides can be analysed in a laboratory.