Tuesday 26 March 2019

Health Minister accused over remarks about cancer screening team

Micheal Martin said Simon Harris’ comments about those overseeing the screening programme were ‘unacceptable and mean-spirited’.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the health minister of attempting to destroy the reputation of the CervicalCheck team.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the health minister of attempting to destroy the reputation of the CervicalCheck team.

By Cate McCurry, Press Association

The leader of the opposition party has accused the health minister of attempting to destroy the reputation of the CervicalCheck team.

Micheal Martin said Simon Harris’ comments about those overseeing the screening programme were “unacceptable and mean-spirited”.

The Fianna Fail leader said the CervicalCheck team has carried out “exceptional work” in helping to save thousands of lives over the last 10 years.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, however, defended the Minister for Health and said the people managing the cancer screening programme made “a lot of mistakes”.

The degree to which the minister dumped on them last Saturday morning, attempting to destroy their reputation is unacceptable (and) is mean-spirited Micheal Martin

Speaking during Leaders’ questions, Mr Martin said: “I listened to the Minister’s (RTE) interview last Saturday and I must say I was taken aback when he launched an attack on the CervicalCheck team, saying he had lost confidence in the people running the CervicalCheck because of the decision around managing the audit.

“The degree to which the minister dumped on them last Saturday morning, attempting to destroy their reputation is unacceptable (and) is mean-spirited.”

Mr Varadkar said he acknowledged that the people who built the programme “did a good job”.

“Cervical Check is a good programme and those who have managed it did a good job and saved a lot of lives.

“But they also made a lot of mistakes too and among those mistakes was a botched audit, which had had a significant retrospection bias and they did not share information about that audit with the women affected.”

Mr Martin also pressed the Taoiseach on the chief medical officer’s (CMO) support for the free out-of-cycle smear tests.

He asked Mr Varadkar whether the CervicalCheck team voiced its opposition to a senior official at the Department of Health over the decision to offer the free tests to women last year.

Mr Martin said: “Did the CMO recommend this or not?

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Minister for Health Simon Harris (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

“I believe what we are getting here is covering tracks because we need to learn from this.”

Mr Varadkar said the free smear test was offered because a “very large number of women were concerned their smear test was wrong”.

He added: “The decision was made to give free out of cycle smears to tens of thousands of women who were concerned about the accuracy of their smear tests the reassurance that they sought.

“It was called for by opposition deputies.

“When it was decided upon it was welcomed by some doctors.

“It caused problems (and) there is a backlog in slides awaiting analysis.

“It’s not just because of the free test, it’s also because of the increase in attendance for screening.”

Press Association

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