Sunday 22 September 2019

Coveney pledges State will learn from 'tragic lesson'

Health Minister Harris brings in legislation to shore up governance and accountability of HSE

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Maeve Sheehan, Philip Ryan and Alan O'Keeffe

A grieving daughter has revealed that her mother was one of the 17 women who died after receiving incorrect smear test results.

Grace Rattigan said her mother, Catherine Reck, was wrongly told in 2010 that abnormalities in her mother's smear tests were "low-grade". She said her mother was asked to return for another test in six months. She developed cervical cancer and died, aged 48, in April 2012.

Ms Rattigan said her family was told at a meeting with her mother's clinician last Thursday that the abnormalities identified in her mother's screening were in fact "high grade" and would have resulted in her urgent treatment.

Ms Rattigan, from Tallaght in Dublin, said the news was a devastating shock to her family, six years after her mother's death. Her family are speaking out to encourage others to come forward and to promote the message that women should keep going for smear tests, she said.

"If people did not speak out, this would be swept under the carpet. This would be about numbers. It wouldn't even be names, it would be just numbers. People speaking out is putting names to these numbers, it's putting faces to the 17 women and their families and what has been done to them."

Ms Rattigan represents the fourth family to speak out since Vicky Phelan exposed the CervicalCheck scandal after settling her case against a US lab for €2.5m. Ms Phelan, a mother of two, has terminal cancer. Emma Mhic Mhathuna (37), a mother of five, received her terminal diagnosis last week, having wrongly been given the all-clear and Stephen Teap last weekend revealed how his wife, Irene, a mother of two, was twice wrongly given the all-clear.

Read More: 'When they told us it was horrifically hard to hear'

The crisis over the CervicalCheck cancer screening programme continues this weekend, with the Government to start the process of appointing a new director general of the Health Service Executive following Tony O'Brien's resignation.

The Minister for Health will bring a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday with the general scheme of legislation to shore up the governance and accountability of the HSE.

The Minister's planned reforms include the establishment of a HSE board with a strong chair, the appointment of a new CEO, an examination of the current senior management within the HSE and the development of an effective performance management and accountability system.

The new board will be tasked with carrying out a full examination of the skills experience and responsibilities of existing HSE managers

"This should include measuring performance on service delivery, financial/budgetary management and reform including culture and behavioural change," a source said.

Under the new legislation, the board will be accountable to the Minister. The board will also be responsible for the appointment of a CEO, who will in turn report to the board.

Dr Irene Regan, vice president of the Academy of Clinical Science and Laboratory Medicine, told the Sunday Independent this weekend that 45pc of smears go to a US laboratory, Quest Diagnostics; 45pc go to MedLab Pathology, par of the Sonic Healthcare group in Dublin; and 10pc go to the laboratory at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.

According to Dr Regan, smears taken at Well Woman Clinics or from Carlow and Kilkenny area are read in the Coombe Hospital. Smears from the rest of Leinster are sent to the US, while smears from the rest of Ireland go to MedLab Pathology.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Simon Harris said he would like to restore laboratory testing of cervical smears in Ireland but said he would have to be "careful".

"No woman would thank me if we took the decision to bring it back to Ireland to find out all of a sudden that smear tests would take a lot longer to be read," he said.

He said plans for HPV testing will reduce the number of false negatives, so it's a really, really good investment in women's healthcare. I made the decision in February."

Speaking in relation to criticism of political reaction to the crisis, he said: "The Taoiseach, like everybody else in this country, is shocked, upset and concerned.

Read More: Questions have got us no closer to the vital facts

"Regardless of what political jersey you wear, if you work in the Oireachtas or any other workplace, the last couple of weeks have been horrific. Really, really horrific.

"If anyone thinks they haven't had the same emotional impact on politicians as on all the citizens in the country, then that's misplaced. I have spoken to Vicky Phelan on a very regular basis… I've heard Emma [Mhic Mhathuna] speak in the media. What women want from the Government and politicians is not platitudes but action."

He said: "We are going to legislate for mandatory open disclosure and we're going to draft that. That is why we have put in place practical measures to help women and their next of kin who have been impacted, with medical cards, experimental drugs, transport to and from the hospitals, childcare costs, whatever we can do to ease the burden on them."

Yesterday, the Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, said the State needs to learn from the "tragic lesson" of the cervical cancer revelations in order to ensure that women will always be "the first to know" information about their health. He said nobody was above accountability and that the health service should be about saving lives and not saving face.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News