Saturday 20 April 2019

'How do I tell our children chances were missed to save their mother?'

Widower of victim says 35 health officials 'should go' after women were 'handed death sentences'

Stephen Teap and his late wife Irene, with sons Noah and Oscar, pictured Christmas Eve 2016 - months before she died
Stephen Teap and his late wife Irene, with sons Noah and Oscar, pictured Christmas Eve 2016 - months before she died

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

THE husband of Irene Teap, one of the victims of the cervical screening scandal, has said women have been "handed death sentences" and senior health officials should vacate their positions during the investigation into what happened.

Widower Stephen Teap also said two opportunities to diagnose her cancer were missed and if they hadn't been, "she would have been with us here today".

The father of two delivered powerful testimony to the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where he appeared alongside Vicky Phelan, whose own case brought the controversy to light.

Both Mr Teap and Ms Phelan spoke of the need for accountability for those responsible.

Ms Teap died of cervical cancer last year having twice been given the all-clear in smear tests carried out in 2010 and 2013.

Mr Teap said he believed more officials in the health service needed to step aside from their positions during the inquiry into the scandal.

Stephen Teap arriving at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Stephen Collins
Stephen Teap arriving at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Stephen Collins

He said it looked to him like information was withheld from ministers and that people in senior positions now knew about controversial HSE memos about the cervical screening audit from 2016.

The PAC is examining the failure to inform 209 women, who have cancer, of the outcome of false negative smear tests which emerged in an audit of the CervicalCheck service.

Labour TD Alan Kelly praised Mr Teap for his strength in telling his wife's story to the committee.

Mr Kelly said he counted 35 officials in the HSE and Department of Health who had been aware of issues involving the cervical screening audit in 2016 due to the HSE memos at the time.

Ms Phelan said she agreed with a call from Mr Teap for officials involved to stand aside during the investigation.

Mr Teap noted that former HSE director general Tony O'Brien had left his position and said he believed other officials should stand aside during the inquiry.

"If it's 35 people, so be it. They cannot remain in positions of power or senior management with such a scandal underneath them.

"People are dead. People have been handed death sentences," he added.

Earlier, Mr Teap had told the committee: "Irene had two missed opportunities for cancer to be identified in her smear test, either one of which she would have been here with us today."

He said there had been no support services for him to help his children Oscar (5) and Noah (3) through their bereavement.

He said that years from now they will read the coverage of what happened to Irene and of his appearance in Leinster House and he asked: "What is there to help me prepare them for that?

"What is there when they see two opportunities to save their mother's life were missed? How do I communicate that with them?"

He said there were 17 families in the same situation - a reference to the other women who have died.

He criticised the HSE, saying a "lack of open disclosure within the HSE is clearly an issue".

"The HSE needs to be reformed," he said, and urged the organisation to "put patient care at the backbone of the HSE right up to senior management".

He stressed the importance of communication with patients. He said plans by the Government to bring in mandatory disclosure will be "useless" unless there are sanctions against individuals that don't comply with it.

"You can't tell someone to do something and if they don't nothing happens because it won't work and there needs to be serious sanctions in place for this."

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy thanked both Mr Teap and Ms Phelan for attending the committee and telling their deeply personal stories.

"Unfortunately we tend to get change in this country by people putting themselves forward in a way that I think really shouldn't have to happen," she added.

Ms Murphy said that the issue has been compounded by the "insensitive" way Mr Teap learned of the audit of the cervical screening service and his wife's results.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said that on a sunny evening, both Ms Phelan and Mr Teap would prefer to be with their children than attending an Oireachtas committee.

"Stephen, you said you'd wonder what Oscar and Noah will think. They'll be very proud what their brave dad has done standing up and talking for their mum at Leinster House."

Irish Independent

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