HSE chief again refuses to resign over Cervical Check scandal

Fianna Fáil says Tony O'Brien needs to resign "immediately"

HSE chief again refuses to resign over Cervical Check scandal

HSE Director-General Tony O'Brien speaking in 2017 | Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Updated 10:15

The director general of the HSE has again insisted he will not resign his position over the Cervical Check scandal.

Appearing in front of the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning, Tony O'Brien said he intends to finish out his contract.

It comes as opposition parties continue to call for his resignation.

Sinn Féin is due to table a no confidence motion in him in the Dáil next week.

Fianna Faíl has yet to make clear whether it will support the motion - however on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the party's health spokesperson said he should "resign without prejudice with immediate effect."

The appearance in front of TDs was originally scheduled to allow Mr O'Brien and the Health Minister Simon Harris to give a quarterly update on the state of health services.

However the hearing is being over-shadowed by the Cervical Check scandal.

Resignation

At the outset, Deputy Donnelly used the hearing to call for Mr O'Brien to step down.

"I would put it to you as well, minister, that it is an ongoing political error to allow the director-general of the HSE to remain in situ," he said.

"The director-general of the HSE needs to resign immediately without prejudice for three reasons.

"He was in charge through this entire thing, he is clearly a distraction to supporting the women involved, and the response to date in terms of the helpline has been shambolic."

Mr O'Brien said that while he understood the deputy's point, he would "respectfully decline your invitation to resign."

Mr O'Brien is leaving his post this summer in any case. He announced the decision before news of the scandal broke.

Confidence

Earlier, Minister Harris admitted his confidence in the Health Service had been shaken by the Cervical Check scandal.

He opened the meeting by addressing the events of the past few weeks.

"This has been an intensely difficult time for everyone involved; most importantly the individuals - the women and their families," he said.

"The events of the last ten days in relation to Cervical Check have shook the confidence of the public and me as minister in the very fundamentals of our health care system."

Diagnosis

The scandal was brought to light after terminally ill mother Vicky Phelan settled a case  after having her diagnosis delayed, leading to her cancer being more developed when she learned of it. 

It later emerged that of 208 women whose smear tests were reviewed as part of an audit of Ireland’s national cervical screening programme, only 46 had been informed about the history of their smear tests.

Yesterday the HSE said it had since made contact with 201 of the women.

Fallout

Mr O'Brien said that if he had been made aware of Vicky Phelan's case and wider issues he could have put in place a number of steps that would have made the fallout easier for everyone.

He noted that he has a sign hanging in his office saying "speak truth to power" and insisted he has tried to create a culture where people could discuss things openly within the HSE.

A scoping inquiry into the Cervical Check scandal has begun, after ministers signed off on it at Cabinet.

It is being led by Dr Gabriel Scally from the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK.

Dr Scally has also asked an expert in women's health, Dr Karin Denton - Consultant in Cellular Pathology at North Bristol NHS Trust - to assist in the review.

It will look at why 209 women were not told about their incorrect smear results.

Additional reporting Sean Defoe and Michael Staines