Sunday 25 August 2019

Expert advice against offering free cervical smear re-tests came after Health Minister's announcement - Taoiseach tells Dail

Leo Varadkar said Simon Harris received expert advice against offering new free cervical smear tests free of charge for women worried by the controversy after he had made the announcement
Picture: Damien Eagers
Leo Varadkar said Simon Harris received expert advice against offering new free cervical smear tests free of charge for women worried by the controversy after he had made the announcement Picture: Damien Eagers
John Downing

John Downing

Health Minister Simon Harris received expert advice - against offering new free cervical smear tests free of charge for women worried by the controversy – only after he had made the announcement, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Under pressure from Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, Mr Varadkar insisted that the priority must now be to deal with the tests backlog. The Taoiseach said some women were getting cervical smear test results within four weeks, and the average was now 15 weeks.

“But some women are waiting up to 33 weeks – and that is not acceptable,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said efforts to find more laboratories to help clear the smear test backlog were “hampered by the litigious environment in Ireland.”

 He said efforts to find new laboratories were continuing with the HSE and talks included guarantees on potential legal actions.

Mr Varadkar said the Health Minister Simon Harris will appear before the Oireachtas health committee on Wednesday and deal with any outstanding questions on the timeline of events surrounding the re-check decision. He said the advice of the cervical check director was received after the Minister’s announcement – though it did arrive on the same day.

Mr Varadkar said the advice of the chief medical officer, Dr Tonly Holohan, was that free re-tests should be subject to consultation by women with the GPs.  A total of 112,000 women consulted with their GPs but some 57,000 women took a second test.

Officials have recently put the current backlog of women awaiting test results at 80,000.

The Fianna Fáil leader argued that the decision to offer repeat smear tests was endorsed by Cabinet a few days Mr Harris’s announcement. Mr Martin wanted to know if any negative advice came to light, or was taken on board, during the intervening days.

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