Wednesday 18 July 2018

Cervical cancer scandal 'a personal blow', says HSE's O'Brien as he insists he will not step down

  • HSE boss to devote last 12 weeks in job to the issue describing revelations as a 'personal blow'
  • 10 ‘active’ legal cases similar to Vicky Phelan’s are in train
  • 14 women directly affected by the scandal 'outside the health system and difficult to contact'
  • 72 doctors now assigned to CervicalCheck helpline
HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Damien Eagers
HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

HSE boss Tony O’Brien has said he will not resign in the face of political attacks but will take a “personal interest” in the cancer scandal until his scheduled retirement in 12 weeks time.

Mr O’Brien told TDs today that he intends “to devote the greater part of those weeks to addressing these issues”.

He made the statement at an Oireachtas committee where it was also revealed:

  • 10 ‘active’ legal cases similar to Vicky Phelan’s are in train.
  • 14 women directly affected by the scandal are proving difficult to contact as they are now “outside the public health system”.
  • The National Cancer Registry never provided CervicalCheck with details of women who developed cancer – despite this being the widespread belief.
  • 72 doctors and nurses are now assigned to the HSE helpline due to the massive volume of calls.

Mr O'Brien described the recent revelations as a "personal blow" to him, noting he had started his career in Breastcheck.

"I do not have many months left in my role... consequently I intend to devote the greater part of those weeks to addressing these issues," he said.

The hearing comes after Health Minister Simon Harris dropped a “bombshell” in the Dáil by revealing that up to 1,500 more women are to be dragged into the controversy.

All of those women know they have cancer but an audit now needs to be carried out to check if they could have been diagnosed earlier.

It could be weeks before they are all contacted.

Vicky Phelan
Vicky Phelan

From the original 208 identified as having been the subject of an erroneous smear test, 172 have been contacted.

The HSE are still trying to track down 36 women, including 14 who are no longer on the books of the health service. Some of these are likely to live abroad.

Mr O’Brien confirmed that there are 10 more cases relating to the CervicalCheck programme.

Legal proceedings have commenced in six of the cases, while solicitors letters have been received in another four.

There is another case, which the Irish Independent reported was settled by one of the labs involved in screening Irish smear test.

During the hearing Labour TD Alan Kelly said public opinion now sees this as “one big massive cover up”.

He said it was “amazing” that Mr O’Brien first learned of the overall scandal from the media.

The HSE Director General said he “felt significantly unhappy” about this.

“I feel let down by the fact that I wasn’t aware,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell asked whether he might step down – but Mr O’Brien said he intends “to use the remainder of my time to focus on this issue”.

She replied: “With respect it’s a pity you didn’t focus on it before now.”

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