Dept of Health: Ten cases similar to Vicky Phelan's are before the courts

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says redress scheme is needed for women affected

Dept of Health: Ten cases similar to Vicky Phelan's are before the courts

Director-general of the Health Service Executive Tony O'Brien talking at a media briefing with an update from the HSE Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) | Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated: 18.55

There are 10 other active legal cases similar to Vicky Phelan's on the records of the State Claims Agency.

An Oireachtas Committee has been questioning officials from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health over the Cervical Check scandal.

Earlier, the head of the HSE Tony O'Brien said the Cervical Check scandal was "a personal blow" to him.

Mr O'Brien has said he will not be in his role for much longer - he is scheduled to step down in the summer.

"Given that I started my own career in the public service, in Breast Check, the recent events are indeed a personal blow to me.

"I do not have many more weeks, indeed only a few months, in my role - and consequently I intend to devote the greater part of those weeks to addressing those issues".

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell questioned Mr O'Brien on his future in the job.

"Do you think you should continue out the rest of your contract, Mr O'Brien?", she asked him.

Mr O'Brien replied: "Yes, I've already indicated that I intend to use the remainder of my time to focus very specifically on this issue - and that's what I intend to do".

Deputy O'Connell added: "Well with respect, it's a pity you didn't focus on it before now".

Legal proceedings

While Tracey Conroy from the Department of Health told the committee there are a number of cases similar to Ms Phelan's before the courts.

"Legal proceedings have commenced in six cases involving Cervical Check and the audit process", she said.

"In the case of three of these six cases, indemnities have been received from the laboratories involved.

"They have received solicitor's correspondence in relation to a further four cases, and they're also aware of one further case which they estimate is likely to give rise to a claim".

Redress scheme

It comes after the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there needs to be a redress scheme for the women affected by the Cervical Check scandal.

Mr Varadkar also asked for time and space for the Government to consider how best to launch an inquiry into the false negatives.

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil on Tuesday that the number of women who have developed cancer and have not had their smear tests rechecked may be double the amount originally reported.

It means some 1,500 women who have developed cancer may have to have their smear tests audited.

Earlier, Minister Harris confirmed every woman who has had a cervical cancer diagnosis here since 2008 will have their screening history reviewed by a team from the UK.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is still considering whether to begin a Commission of Investigation into the scandal - but they have decided a few things.

He told the Dáil: "We will need a scheme of redress for women whose cancer was missed and should have been detected beyond normal error, [and] for women where there was a breach of duty to inform them of the audit results."

Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald both piled pressure on HSE boss Tony O'Brien, with the Sinn Féin leader saying he needs to go.

She argued: "If you really were serious about reassuring the women, right across this country, you'd do the first thing that needs to happen and you'd remove that incompetent man from the position that he currently holds."

However, the Taoiseach argued this is not about removing one person, saying: "This isn't about targetting one head, another head, another head after that... for me this about the women affected and their health."

Professor Gráinne Flannelly, the clinical director of the Cervical Check programme, announced she was standing down from her role over the weekend.

Mr Varadkar also said the 1,500 cases of cervical cancer that have not been looked at will be audited by the end of May.

Commission of Inquiry

Minister Harris has asked the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to carry out a root and branch review of the programme – however some TDs are calling for a full State Commission of Inquiry.

On Newstalk Breakfast Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly said HIQA is the right course of action "as a starting point."

"What we need is the truth and we need the truth quickly," he said.

"A Commission of Inquiry will give us the truth but over several years.

"A HIQA investigation as a starting point is the right thing to do.

"They have the confidence of the public; they have done it with Port Laoise, they did it with Savita Halappanavar; they have a good track record of being robust.

"Will it need to be expanded in time? Maybe, but we need to get to the truth and we need to get there quickly."

Labour TD Alan Kelly insisted there needs to be a Commission of Investigation to get to the bottom of the controversy.

He argued: "Any inquiry involving HIQA will not work - they don't have the power of compellability; they don't have the powers to cross examine; and they will not be able to ensure that the information and the facts that need to be delivered can be done so."

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, meanwhile, said they are now looking at the best way to investigate what went happened at Cervical Check.

She said: "I think we'll have to wait and hear back what everybody says, and then we'll see if a Commission is warranted.

"It may well be under the circumstances, but I don't want to pre-empt that intelligence-gathering that needs to be done first."

Women who have questions about their case can contact the Cervical Check information phone line on 1800-45-45-55.

Additional reporting: Sean Defoe and Jack Quann