Monday 24 June 2019

Revealed: Promotion for HSE boss who was criticised for her role in cancer scandal

Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe
Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe

Eilish O'Regan and Laura Larkin

The HSE executive overseeing CervicalCheck and who failed to track if women with cancer were told they were the victim of a wrong test result has been promoted.

Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe was the €156,296-a-year HSE director for health and wellness at the time the patient reviews, confirming the blunder, were secretly paused in 2016.

She is now director of strategic planning and transformation after being given wider responsibilities in January, the Irish Independent has learned.

She was promoted by former HSE chief Tony O'Brien and is now responsible for improving efficiencies and value, the HSE confirmed. However, she continues to have responsibility for health and wellness - including CervicalCheck.

It emerged last week that Dr O'Keeffe was the co-author of two memos in 2016, including a starkly written document in March 2016 saying to pause the release of the reports after legal threats from labs where the test mistakes were made.

She was criticised by members of Oireachtas committees for failing to follow up to see if the women or relatives of deceased patients had received the reviews from mid-2016 onwards.

Dr O'Keeffe, who is a psychologist, not a medical doctor, insisted she received monthly reports from CervicalCheck telling her everything was going well.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said she will work closely with community and acute planning teams, operational functions and clinical areas to support transformational change in the health service in a time when the health service is experiencing unprecedented demand, and as part of the HSE's reform programme.

Meanwhile, two of the 209 women who developed cervical cancer or their bereaved relatives had still not been contacted yesterday - almost four weeks after the scandal broke. Eighteen of the women have died.

CervicalCheck still has to return the calls of nearly 2,000 people who rang the helpline.

It had received over 20,000 calls so far and of these 11,192 requested a callback.

The scandal, which is the subject of a scoping inquiry which is set to report next month, has already led to CervicalCheck's clinical director Dr Gráinne Flannelly and Mr O'Brien resigning.

A spokeswoman for the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street has declined to say if Dr Flannelly, who works as a gynaecologist in the hospital, has taken leave.

There has been a rise in the numbers of women availing of repeat tests - but several are opting to go private and for the analysis to be carried out in a private laboratory rather than one used by CervicalCheck.

Also, Independent TD Michael Healy Rae defended submitting two questions on the HPV vaccine, saying he had been asked to do so by constituents.

The vaccine has been deemed as safe after unfounded claims that it was leading to complications in some teenage girls.

But Mr Healy Rae said he is "worried about adverse effects" which seem to have been "brushed under the carpet".

He has been contacted about it by concerned relatives of young girls, he added.

Irish Independent

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