Thursday 19 July 2018

Open disclosure concerns were not escalated to ministerial level, Taoiseach says

The Government has ordered a trawl of documents linked to the audit scandal.

Leo Varadkar said documents had not been escalated to ministers (Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA)
Leo Varadkar said documents had not been escalated to ministers (Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA)

By Michelle Devane, Press Association  

Concerns about open disclosure of Cervical Check audits within the Department of Health were not escalated to ministerial level, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said memos and documents found after a trawl by the Government showed no concerns about the accuracy of the screening programme within the department.

But the Taoiseach said: “The only issues that are dealt with in these documents relate to open disclosure, or rather the non-open disclosure of information to patients and to doctors.”

Inaccurate smear test results and the passing on of this information to patients has caused enormous controversy.

The documents confirm that they were not escalated, these issues were not escalated to ministers, advisers or the Secretary General Leo Varadkar

The Taoiseach said about a dozen documents, emails and memos are set to be released after the Government ordered a trawl of thousands of documents between the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in response to the controversy.

The Taoiseach told the Dail: “The documents confirm that they were not escalated, these issues were not escalated to ministers, advisers or the Secretary General.”

Mr Varadkar added: “The documents released today will show that none of this was escalated beyond from the office of CMO (chief medical officer) and the office of acute hospital services and that the concerns that the department was dealing with was concerns about open disclosure, about cervical check passing on information of the audit to clinicians.

“There’s nothing about concerns around laboratories, the efficacy, the accuracy of the programme, or patient safety.”

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Ministers including the Taoiseach addressing a press conference about the cervical checks scandal (Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA)

The healthcare controversy was triggered by the case of Vicky Phelan, a terminally ill mother whose legal battle cast light on the issue.

Last month Ms Phelan, a 43-year-old mother-of-two from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for 2.5 million euro (£2.2 million) after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

In 2014 she was diagnosed with cancer but only told of the false negative last September.

On Saturday Health Minister Simon Harris said the US lab at the centre of Ms Phelan’s case was no longer being used by Cervical Check.

The Taoiseach also told the Dail that the HSE was too large an organisation and it needed to be slimmed down.

UK health expert Dr Gabriel Scally has been commissioned by the Government to lead an inquiry into the misinterpretation of the cancer tests.

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Tony O'Brien quit over the scandal (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Harris said he would be guided by Dr Scally’s findings in relation to future laboratory outsourcing contracts.

The political crisis has already seen the boss of the HSE Tony O’Brien quit.

Earlier this month it emerged that an audit by CervicalCheck of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in earlier smear tests in 209 of the cases, with results showing no abnormalities when they should have flagged a cancer warning.

While screening tests are not 100% accurate and there are acknowledged risks on the possibility of incorrect results, the fact the majority of the affected patients were not told of the outcome of the audit has prompted a wave of public anger.

Of the 209 women, 18 have since died.

Press Association

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