Tuesday 26 March 2019

Government accused of 'reactive' response to CervicalCheck scandal

  • Stephen Teap questions why judge led review was not set up before now
  • Health Minister says it is working on a solution to avoid court cases
Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan. Photo: PA
Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan. Photo: PA

Payu Tiwari and Laura Larkin

THE widower of one of the women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal has accused the Government of being "reactive" instead of proactive in their response to the controversy.

Health Minister Simon Harris, speaking on RTE Radio One in his first remarks in recent days about the issue, said it was not acceptable that Ruth Morrissey was forced to attend court.

The Government has been forced to clarify an earlier assurance that no women affected would have to go to court.

High Court judge, Mr Justice Charles Meenan, has been asked to explore alternatives to adversarial court proceedings for the women and their families.

Stephen Teap, whose late wife Irene was one of the women affected and who has since died, welcomed the news but said it “should have been done in the first week of May when he said that no woman has to go the court.”

In response to criticism that the response has been reactive Mr Harris said the Government was dealing with an "unprecedented health situation" that was evolving.

"There have been an awful lot of moving parts. We have made progress," he said.

"This is an issue that we are going to be dealing with for many years."

The Health Minister said the Government encountered a "roadblock" and is now working on a solution.

Mr Harris said "we can't let the labs of the hook and we're not going to do that. We have to find a mechanism where negligence is established - and thats key - can be established outside of a court setting, that the labs also step up to the plate".

Mr Teap also said that the review of the cases, scheduled to be carried out by the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians needs to be completed quickly.

The review, which was scheduled to conclude at the end of May, has yet to start.

“It was announced at the beginning of the May that no one will have to go to the court and the review will be finished by the end of May,” said Mr Teap.

“They were very good headlines, but in reality it wasn’t practical that it would be finished in that time frame.”

Mr Teap said that there is a need to challenge the “culture of denial and silence” within the Department of Health and the HSE.

He also welcomed the commitment given to Vicky Phelan by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a private meeting that the Government will introduce legislation if necessary to allow a public commission of inquiry into the scandal to be help in public.

“We have been calling for this to be an open enquiry from the very very beginning. You can’t be investigating behind closed doors, given the number of victims of this. We need to be able to see what is going on," Mr Teap said.

“The key here is that it is an open investigation but it needs to be done in a timely fashion.”

Mr Harris also said Ireland needs to look at overhauling how medical negligence works in Ireland so families will not face a court battle for compensation.

Meanwhile, he also moved to allay any concerns about cancer screening programmes in Ireland.

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