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07.32 3 May 2018


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The woman who exposed the Cervical Check scandal has called for an ‘urgent,’ ‘prompt’ and ‘public’ Commission of Investigation.

In a tweet this morning Vicky Phelan, who is now terminally ill after being told she did not have cancer in 2011, said “too much has already happened behind closed doors.”

The Government is likely to establish a preliminary scoping exercise ahead of a full State investigation.

The Health Minister Simon Harris met with opposition other parties last night to discuss how best to examine what happened.

There was general consensus that a HIQA inquiry wouldn't be good enough – but there are also fears a Commission of Investigation could take years to complete.

 

File photo of Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly, 30-04-2018. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly said an initial examination could take place before deciding how best to take a statutory approach.

“I made the suggestion last night that we would have a non-statutory inquiry in the first instance and then that we would look at the legislation that covers Commissions of Inquiry and maybe try to make the changes to that so that we could have a Commission of Inquiry that doesn’t take years and that actually gets to the heart of the issue and actually gets some answers,” she said.

Ms Phelan also warned that “heads absolutely need to roll” over the scandal – and singled out the head of the HSE Tony O’Brien, accusing him of showing “nothing but arrogance” and being “more concerned with defending the indefensible than doing the right thing.” 

Responsibility

It comes after Mr O'Brien refused to take full responsibility for the cervical smear scandal.

Tony O'Brien was grilled by politicians on his part in the controversy yesterday before admitting he was partly to blame for what happened.

It has emerged this morning that the Government is considering some form of ‘scoping-inquiry’ to provide answers as quickly as possible – before a full State Commission of Investigation is established.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has already 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 Investigation.

File photo of HSE chief Tony O’Brien, 01-05-2018. Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews

Questions

Members of the HSE, CervicalCheck and the Department of Health faced five hours of questions on the scandal at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday.

It emerged during the questioning that 10 more women are taking legal action over the scandal.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil the 'cock-up' was more a mess than a conspiracy by people within the HSE.

Under questioning from Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly, Mr O'Brien said he could only take part responsibility.

“As the head of the organisation obviously I have to recognise that those who ‘cocked-up’ to use the Taoiseach’s phrase were in that organisation,” he said.

“But I didn’t personally make that cock-up so I can’t take full responsibility for it, no.”

Cervical Check scandal

Mr O’Brien said the scandal was a “personal blow” to him adding that he plans to devote the remainder of his time as head of the HSE to addressing the issues it has raised.

He is due to step down from his role this summer.

Opposition TDs have called for him to go now - however both the Taoiseach and the Health Minister have said they are happy for him to finish out his time.

Redress

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said a redress scheme must be put in place for women affected by the scandal. 

Minister 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.

On Monday, the HSE confirmed that 17 women whose test results were reviewed as part of an audit of the Cervical Check programme have died.

Mr O’Brien confirmed to the committee yesterday that two of these were informed of the results of their test reviews before they passed.

Of the 208 women whose results were scrutinised, only 46 were informed about the history of their smear tests.

The majority of those women have since been contacted.

Help line

The figures came to light after terminally ill mother Vicky Phelan settled a case last week after having her own diagnosis delayed, leading to her cancer being more developed when she learned of it.

The HSE has assigned up to 40 nurses to the Cervical Check information phone line, and the State has pledged to pay the fees for any woman who wants a repeat smear test – provided their GP agrees they need one.

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


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