Sunday 22 September 2019

Officials can't be forced to give evidence to inquiry

Dr Scally refuses to curtail his probe into CervicalCheck crisis

Gabriel Scally. Picture: Mark Condren
Gabriel Scally. Picture: Mark Condren
Solicitor Cian O’Carroll says CervicalCheck appears to have a policy of obstruction. Picture: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The medical expert heading the inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal has admitted he does not have the power to force any health official or laboratory staff to give evidence.

Dr Gabriel Scally told the Irish Independent: "I cannot compel anyone.

"But anyone I have asked has accepted and I am not expecting any refusals."

His comments come amid mounting concerns the inquiry will drag on for months or longer and he will continue to face delays and obstruction in securing crucial documents from the Department of Health, the HSE and CervicalCheck.

Cian O'Carroll, solicitor for Vicky Phelan who has cervical cancer and exposed the scandal, said yesterday CervicalCheck appears to have a "policy of obstruction" in delaying the release of files.

Health Minister Simon Harris is "clearly not in control of his own inquiry if he is giving instructions and they are not being carried out," he said.

Dr Scally only received 4,000 pieces of documentation as late as last week and the format of much of it made it difficult to read and search.

In response, Dr Scally said he had spoken to the HSE yesterday.

"They are clear about my views, the speed required and accessibility of documentation," he said. "I don't think there is any misunderstanding between us."

Asked if he is over-reaching in his probe, which was billed as a "scoping" inquiry to direct a wider investigation, he said he has no intention of curtailing his remit.

"It was the Oireachtas that set up my terms of reference. It is comprehensive and I intend to do what I was asked.

"I want to examine the facts in relation to a whole range of areas.

"Let there be no doubt I intend to address the terms of reference including the operation of CervicalCheck, quality assurance and tendering."

Dr Scally cannot access the names and contact addresses of the 209 women who developed cervical cancer after wrong tests or the relatives of those who have died.

However, he said the HSE will be able to write to them and invite them to one of at least three meetings he will hold around the country giving them an opportunity to give an account of their personal experience.


He is receiving assistance as requested from experts including cytopathology, quality assurance, clinical audit and legal advice.

Dr Scally said he has no civil servant or HSE staff working for him because he needs to remain independent.

He is breaking down the work into modules which will result in separate reports.

Once he has addressed a particular term of reference he will compile a report on that aspect and publish it, he added.

In response to a series of questions from the Irish Independent yesterday the Department of Health confirmed it will take "several more weeks" to provide Dr Scally with all the documents he has requested.

A dedicated team has been established to oversee the trawl with records to be released going back as far back as 2006.

"This is a considerable undertaking covering paper, electronic and email records," he added.

"Dr Scally sent a request to the Department for records on May 30.

"In response, the Department provided Dr Scally with a significant volume of documents on June 7.

"Since then, two further requests for documents have been received from Dr Scally and these are currently being processed.

"Documents were provided to Dr Scally in a searchable PDF format where possible, considering the age of the document and the timelines set out by Dr Scally."

Labour's health spokesman Alan Kelly said the inquiry appears to be "over reaching" and missing the point of its establishment.

"I've no doubt Dr Scally is a very honourable person trying his best but unless Simon Harris actually goes in and pulls this forward we are not going to get answers in the timeframe necessary," he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned against the immediate establishment of a commission, saying it would probably slow the process down as it would likely take one to three years to set up.

He added: "A lot of women, unfortunately and very sadly, do not have that kind of time."

Irish Independent

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