Saturday 24 August 2019

Harris rules out pausing cancer screening programmes

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Aoife Moore/PA
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Aoife Moore/PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris today ruled out putting a pause on cancer screening programmes.

He was commenting after it was claimed that some senior doctors in the HSE had claimed the screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer should be put on hold until a High Court ruling is clarified.

The ruling last week in the case of Ruth Morrissey, the mother of one caught up in the CervicalCheck crisis, said there should be a standard of "absolute confidence" applied by laboratories.

This means that if there is any doubt about a slide the senior laboratory staff should refer a woman for further investigation.

Radiologists and other senior doctors said this is impossible to implement and it will lead to more cases being brought by women for compensation.

It would also lead to more women being sent for unnecessary investigations with possible side effects.

Mr Harris said today: ”I don’t think screening should be paused.

“What should happen is we should have cool and calm heads. We should allow the Attorney General to do his job.”

The judgment is currently being examined by the Attorney General to determine if it should be appealed to the Supreme Court.

He said: ”We need to consider the legal implications of the judgment in terms of our wider health service, not just screening but also in the area of diagnostics and issues in general.

“Its very difficult to have absolute confidence when it comes to health because there are judgment calls made.

“But equally its important we don’t take one or two words out of judgments without getting the AG to give us a view on that.”

Earlier Judge Kevin Cross said some of the public commentary on his ruling made last Friday was “hysterical”.

Meanwhile,Cian O’Carroll, solicitor for Ruth Morrissey, has described comments by Dr Peter McKenna of the HSE about the possibility of the withdrawal of screening programmes, as “vindictive.”

“The issue here is that you have a senior manager within the HSE, Dr Peter McKenna, alluding to the fact that at a crisis meeting calls were made to shut down screening, now that sounds almost vindictive to me.

“That is totally unnecessary and unjustified based on this judgment which is nothing new. The test hasn't changed. Why should Irish women not be entitled to the same standards of care in their screening that their sisters in the UK are?” he asked on RTE radio’s News at One.

He was commenting on the decision by US laboratory Quest Diagnostics to appeal last week’s High Court award of €2.1m to Ruth Morrissey.

“They're entitled to appeal, that's the way the legal system works, hopefully the appeal can be dealt with quickly and then there can be certainty for Ruth and Paul Morrissey and also put an end to what the judge described as ‘ill informed and hysterical commentary’ which has been going on for the last week as his judgment has been misrepresented by various people in the medical profession and the HSE.”

The appeal did not come as a surprise to the Morrisseys, he said as the other laboratory involved in the case, MedLab, had indicated  they may appeal shortly after the judgment.

“The HSE have clearly been building up their reasons for an appeal, what's important to remember about the HSE is that the court found them to be primarily responsible for the running of the screening programme which they denied.

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