Head of screening service still in post despite Varadkar's claim in the Dáil
The head of the HSE's national screening service, Charles O'Hanlon, remains in his post despite a senior HSE director being appointed to oversee the programme that includes CervicalCheck, it was claimed last night.
A spokesman for the HSE said Mr O'Hanlon had not stepped aside, despite comments in the Dáil by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicating this was the case.
However, the HSE confirmed that national director Damian McCallion had been appointed with direct responsibility for the national screening service and he will be reporting directly to HSE chief Tony O'Brien. Mr McCallion is national director of emergency management and is the person currently in charge of the A&E trolley crisis.
Mr O'Hanlon was not among the health officials who appeared at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday to be grilled by members on the CervicalCheck scandal.
The committee was told Mr O'Hanlon was among the senior staff who drew up a controversial circular sent to doctors treating cervical cancer patients in 2016.
The document was meant to deal with the implications of open disclosure, which puts an onus on health staff to make information on adverse incidents known to patients. The circular said review reports on women who received false negative smear test results and went on to develop cancer were being sent to doctors.
But it was a matter for the judgment of doctors on how to inform the women of the reports.
In the case of a patient who had died, it could be recorded on their medical file.
It emerged only last week that 162 of the women who were the subject of these reports were not informed about this information.
Seventeen of the patients have died and only two were aware of the mistaken test before they died.
Last week, Dr Gráinne Flannelly resigned as clinical director of CervicalCheck.
Dr Flannelly was also absent from yesterday's Oireachtas committee hearing .
Dr Flannelly said she had decided to step aside to allow the service to continue its work.
She took the decision to stand aside following criticism of CervicalCheck's policy in relation to communicating with patients about reviews of their cases. "I am sorry that recent events caused distress and worry to women. I have decided to step aside to allow the programme to continue its important work.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of the doctors, nurses and programme staff of CervicalCheck for their continued hard work and commitment towards delivering a first-class service for the women of Ireland," she said.
Writing in the press release accompanying the last annual report of CervicalCheck, Health Minister Simon Harris said "since free nationwide screening began in 2008, CervicalCheck has had a very positive impact on the detection of pre-cancerous cervical cell changes".
He added that "the number of screenings and percentage coverage in 2016 is hugely encouraging, emphasising that the detection and treatment of pre-cancerous cells reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer". However, in recent days he said he had no confidence in the management of CervicalCheck, which is to be investigated.