Tuesday 17 September 2019

'A poignant and worrying week for the women of Ireland' - Harris pledges to get to the bottom of cancer scandal

Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme
Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme

Ralph Riegel

A VISIBLY angry Health Minister Simon Harris vowed that the Government will get to the bottom of the spiralling cervical cancer screening scandal.

Mr Harris paid a special tribute to Limerick mother Vicky Phelan for her great courage in highlighting what had happened - and he publicly acknowledged the damage the scandal had caused to the Irish healthcare sector over the past week.

"This has been a dreadful week for the Irish health service," he admitted.

"I want to know what went wrong here.

"I want to know why 20 minutes before I went into Dáil Éireann I was given new information that had been kept - not from me - but from the women of Ireland.

"This is not about it being kept from me - it is about it being kept from the women of Ireland.

"We are going to get to the bottom of this whatever it takes.

"It has been a particularly poignant and worrying week for the women of Ireland.

Mr Harris received a resounding ovation from Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) delegates when he said he understood how disturbed people were by the shocking revelations of the past week.

"I share deeply the sense of shock and dismay at what has happened to Vicky Phelan and her family," he said.

"I commend her courageousness that in some of her darkest hours she has had the strength to fight for justice for herself and for others also.

"Let me assure you, your mothers, your sisters, your aunts, your cousins, your friends and your family that I will get to the bottom of this.

"I have taken swift action and I will continue to take every possible measure necessary to address the serious concerns arising starting with making an immediate change to a flawed process which was not ensuring that women were automatically informed of their own health screens.

"The Government has taken a series of further actions including the establishment of two clinical reviews by international experts.

"One of the individual cases of women whose screening results were reviewed but who weren't told and one to conduct an audit of all previous screening results of every women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the last 10 years.

"All of the work underway as part of these actions will of course feed into a wider statutory inquiry on the matter.

"I will bring a proposal to Government on this next week - I will also bring a proposal to legislate for mandatory open disclosure for serious reportable events.

"Nobody knows better than you (nurses) the moral and ethical responsibility for all medical professionals to advocate for their patients and to inform them of any errors if they exist.

"I will not be found wanting in supporting you in the drive for change that we need to see in our health service.

"No other person should have to go through what Vicky has gone through to get answers to information that directly relates to them.

"In my view this is a fundamental right and this open disclosure legislation will go some way towards preventing this ever happening again.

"I want to recognise with gratitude that Vicky remains steadfast that the public must still attend these screening programmes in a bid to identify the early signs of cancer.

"I thank you for that - while we recognise the flaws and the weaknesses that have occurred and we need to fix them, we cannot lose sight of the fact this is a life saving programme that has detected more than 50,000 pre cancers in Irish women and has saved lives.

"I do seek your support in reassuring the public in continuing to deliver this important work."

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