Wednesday 17 July 2019

Simon Harris backs Taoiseach over CervicalCheck criticism

Campaigner Vicky Phelan said she thought the Taoiseach is ‘all talk and no action’.

Leo Varadkar has been criticised (Tom Honan/PA)
Leo Varadkar has been criticised (Tom Honan/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended the Taoiseach after it was claimed the Irish leader was “all talk” regarding the CervicalCheck scandal.

The comments were made by campaigner Vicky Phelan in Limerick on Saturday night, who hailed Mr Harris and the work he had undertaken to remedy the situation when it emerged over 221 women had had their smear results kept from them or delayed.

“I wouldn’t have that same confidence in the Taoiseach, put it that way,” Ms Phelan said.

“I think he is very much ‘all talk’ and ‘no action’, and I just don’t get (the) sense, that he thinks this is as important as what it is really, when you consider half the population in the country are women, and every woman in this country has to have a smear.”

On January 12 last year, Ms Phelan was given between six and 12 months to live due to her cervical cancer diagnosis, having previously received a false negative smear test result.

On Monday morning, Minister Harris, who said he considers Ms Phelan “a friend”, backed the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

“She (Phelan) has been an incredible advocate and has brought about so much positive change already,” he said.

“Vicky is absolutely right to keep the focus on this, and I know Vicky, she is going to and she is right to.

“I want to say though, while as the line minister who has responsibility for this, I have been directly interacting with patients quite a lot and I have at all times been doing this with full support of the Taoiseach, who has been very helpful and supportive, as the entire cabinet has, as we try to put in place a huge programme of work.”

The Taoiseach himself responded to the criticism on Monday, saying he too admired Ms Phelan.

“One of the things I respect and admire most about Vicky Phelan is that she would like something good to come out of the tragedy that has affected her. I share that objective,” he said.

“That means reforming our health service so it becomes more honest and more open and that is what we are going to do.

“The Irish public and the women of Ireland have my commitment that will make those things happen, working closely obviously with minister Harris.”

It is thought about 20 women have died from cervical cancer since the shortcomings in the CervicalCheck reporting system were publicised.

An independent review in September found the controversy came about as a result of a whole system failure.

In a note to Simon Harris at the start of his report, the author, Dr Gabriel Scally, said there were many indications that the system in place “was doomed to fail”.

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