The HSE confirm 17 women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy have died

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They're among 206 women identified in an audit of CervicalCheck, who may have had a delayed misdiagnosis were not told about it by their doctors.

The HSE Serious Incident Management Team held a special briefing on the controversy on Monday afternoon and according to its chairperson, Patrick Lynch, the cause of these women's deaths is not known at this time.

Under the auspices of this statutory investigation an International Peer Review Group will examine the cervical screening programme in Ireland against international best practice and standards.

More than 2,000 women have called the CervicalCheck helpline over the weekend. Minister Harris must set out in detail what steps he is taking to ensure all affected women are informed immediately.

Speaking earlier today Ms Phelan said the news that 17 of the affected women have died - with only two of them being made aware of the issues with their smear tests - had left her very upset. She also apologised to women who have been distressed by recent events.

While insisting that cancer screening "does work", he acknowledged that there had been "appalling communication failures".

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Ms Phelan (43), a mother of two from Limerick, settled her High Court action against a USA laboratory for €2.5 million last week. "She said, 'I don't care what happens, I'm not going to agree to a confidentiality agreement.' If she had, none of this would have come out".

'In addition I am appointing an International Clinical Expert Panel to provide the women concerned with an individual clinical review.

Ms Phelan was diagnosed with cancer three years after her smear test results of 2011 were incorrectly reported as clear of abnormalities. Thankfully I didn't and I'm here to tell the tale.

Women with concerns about their results will be able to get repeat tests for free and the Cervical Check helpline is open at 1800 45 45 55.

Anyone who has had a smear test and wants to undergo a recheck for reassurance can have it arranged by their GP.