Sunday 22 September 2019

Expert leading CervicalCheck probe warns of 'stonewalling'

Anger at 'paltry' €2,000 payment to victims

Dr Gabriel Scally. Photo: Mark Condren
Dr Gabriel Scally. Photo: Mark Condren

Kevin Doyle and Eilish O'Regan

The medical expert heading the inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal warned it is facing major blockages because of a failure to release crucial documents.

Dr Gabriel Scally, who is heading the scoping probe, said he would not be "stonewalled" by the slow release of documents by the Department of Health and HSE.

He was speaking after a decision to give an ex-gratia payment of €2,000 to victims of the scandal and their bereaved relatives was described by solicitor Cian O'Carroll as "meaningless".

Labour Party TD Alan Kelly said the money was "paltry compared with the costs, treatments, supports and additional services many of the women affected now need".

The offer to 209 women who developed cervical cancer, including relatives of those who have died, was announced as Dr Scally delivered his interim report.

Dr Scally was appointed to carry out a scoping inquiry into how a majority of 209 women who developed cervical cancer after getting incorrect smear were not informed of internal CervicalCheck audits confirming the mistake.

Vicky Phelan Photo: Fergal Phillips
Vicky Phelan Photo: Fergal Phillips

Vicky Phelan, the Limerick mother-of-two who has terminal cervical cancer, said she was "not surprised Gabriel is being stonewalled, to be honest".

The interim report revealed Dr Scally only received 4,000 items of documentation in the past week and much of this is "difficult to read" and non-searchable because it was scanned electronically.

He said: "The problem is the volume of information we're going to have to go through and its availability to use because it is not coming either in quantity I would want or the way I would want it."

He has raised the issue with the Health Minister Simon Harris and will get back to him if there is no release of documents. "I will not be letting walls get in my way whether they are stone or otherwise," he told RTÉ's 'Drivetime'.

Mr O'Carroll said the €2,000 would not go far for women who were suffering serious ill health.

His client Ms Phelan said of Dr Scally: "I have faith in what he is doing . I know he trusts my opinion and I trust him.

"He is trying to do this in a way there are not going to be injunctions or legal objections... I fully believe that he will get to the end of the inquiry and that will lead to a commission of investigation."

She said it was important the CervicalCheck scandal remained in the news over the summer and not just go away - which was what the "HSE would probably like anyway".

A final report from Dr Scally was originally promised at the end of this month but it will not be ready now until late August.

The interim report reached no conclusions but Dr Scally recommended clearer information given to women having smear tests about the limitations of screening. He also wants the consent form signed by women to clearly state they will have full and open access to their cervical screening record on request. The form must state if there is any error or problem of significance in the screening, that the woman will be told in a timely manner.

However, Dr Scally defended the €2,000 payment saying that it would help recipients with the expense of travelling to venues for interview as part of his inquiry.

He has been in contact with about 20 of the women, but would like to hear their full account and those of their relatives in the coming months.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the HSE against complaints from women who say they have been waiting weeks to obtain their medical records. He said it was not as straightforward as going to the medical records department of a hospital.

Irish Independent

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