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Thursday 24 May 2018

Smear test scandal: HSE boss O'Brien under increasing pressure to resign or be sacked

  • National Cancer Control Programme did not consider Vicky Phelan’s case a 'patient safety incident'
  • Harris to face Q&A session with Opposition parties today
  • Minister’s briefing note to be published with redactions
HSE boss Tony O’Brien
HSE boss Tony O’Brien
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

PRESSURE is set to mount on HSE boss Tony O’Brien to resign or be sacked in the wake of the cervical cancer scandal.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has become the first political leader to describe his position as “untenable”, while Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party have also raised concerns about his performance.

It comes ahead of a Dáil grilling for Health Minister Simon Harris over what he knew about the unfolding controversy ahead of Vicky Phelan’s appearance in the High court on April 19.

Attention is now turning to HSE boss Tony O’Brien who was head of the National Cancer Screening Programme when smear test analysis were outsourced to the United States in 2008.

Despite now being the head of the HSE which oversees CervicalCheck, Mr O’Brien has claimed he only learned of the Vicky Phelan case from media reports.

Asked by Independent.ie whether she considers his position tenable, Ms McDonald said the idea that he did not know about the case in advance “stretches credibility to breaking point”.

Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts
Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts

The Dublin Central TD said this “further underlines the reasons he has to go.

“He should step aside and if he’s not prepared to do that he should be sacked,” Ms McDonald said.

Mr O’Brien told RTÉ radio earlier today that at no point over the past few days did he consider resigning. He is due to retire later this year.

Labour’s Alan Kelly said the HSE chief had spoken “more candidly” than some of his colleagues about the situation but still had questions to answer.

Mr Kelly said the most important issue now is that the women affected are given every support possible by the State.

He said the Government should release all relevant documentation so that “this political sideshow” can be dealt with.

Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly was this morning given sight of the five-page briefing note provided to Minister Harris. He confirmed that it “alludes” to the process of an audit, as reported earlier by Independent.ie.

Mr Donnelly said it raises “some very serious questions”.

“We want to know whether the government acted fast enough,” he said.

It Is understood the memo references the fact an audit of CervicalCheck had taken place and the “outcome of all current and historical cases were communicated to treating clinicians”.

But in a section that Opposition parties are likely to hone in on, the note claimed: “More recently women are informed of this audit process and have the option to request information on the outcomes of reviews.”

It has now also emerged that the note includes a paragraph stating that the National Cancer Control Programme did not consider Vicky Phelan’s case a “patient safety incident”.

Ms Phelan, who has terminally cancer, was not told that an audit revealed abnormal cell activity was missed in an earlier scan. Her case against the US laboratory that carried out the analysis was settled on the steps of the High Court last week for €2.5m.

The Cabinet are today meeting to discuss whether to set up a redress scheme for other women caught up in the scandal.

Seventeen have already died in the interim, while 142 women who are alive are only now finding out that they had a delayed diagnosis.

Minister Harris’s office has consulted Ms Phelan about publishing the briefing note.

She confirmed: “I have given my approval through my solicitor so that document will be made public this evening.” 

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