Sunday 16 June 2019

HSE chief blames doctors for sufferers being left in the dark

HSE acting chief John Connaghan at Leinster House. Picture: Frank McGrath
HSE acting chief John Connaghan at Leinster House. Picture: Frank McGrath
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The acting head of the HSE blamed doctors for not passing on audits to women who developed cervical cancer after getting an incorrect smear test.

John Connaghan said he agreed the "responsibility" to provide women with the audits - confirming the error - stood with their doctors.

He was responding to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Sean Fleming, who asked him if he felt the doctors should have communicated with "the women as appropriate".

It is the first time the HSE has directly blamed the doctors in the debacle.

The issue of who bears ultimate responsibility for keeping women in the dark for so long about their audits will be one of the key questions to be answered in the inquiry being carried out by Dr Gabriel Scally.

Earlier evidence revealed that in 2016 there was a freeze on the release of the audits by CervicalCheck.

They were eventually sent to the women's doctors with advice from CervicalCheck to "use their judgment" on whether to hand them over.

Most women were never informed and only found out about them after the case of Vicky Phelan in April last.

Nobody in the HSE or CervicalCheck tracked to see if the women had received the audits.

John Gleeson, programme manager of CervicalCheck, yesterday denied telling the State Claims Agency in April that all the women had received their reports.

He told the committee he informed agency staff in a tele-conference that he "assumed" all the women had been told as their doctors had been given the audits.

However, Ciaran Breen of the State Claims Agency said it remained his understanding of the comment at the time that all the women had been given their audits.

Questioned by the committee, he said he did not believe his position was "untenable". Mr Connaghan supported him.

The HSE is to pass on letters of invitation from Dr Gabriel Scally to 209 women, including the families of those who died, to give their testimony to the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal.

Dr Scally, who is leading the probe, hopes to organise a number of meetings around the country to hear the first-hand accounts of women and bereaved families.

The answers provided by the officials from the HSE and CervicalCheck yesterday led to Fine Gael backbencher Kate O'Connell to declare: "There is no point in you because you cannot give us answers.

"I think the whole lot of you should be sent packing.

"This is the middle of June and we are none the wiser."

The CervicalCheck helpline is continuing to receive calls.

Since it was set up several weeks ago it had around 24,000 calls.

One of the 209 women who developed cervical cancer after a wrong smear test still cannot be found. She is believed to be in Russia.

Meanwhile, CervicalCheck is currently trying to recruit a new clinical director.

Irish Independent

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