Tuesday 18 September 2018

Taoiseach walks off as he takes only one question about report

Quizzed: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the launch of 31 Local Authority Culture and Creative Strategies 2018-2022 in Merrion Square yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Quizzed: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the launch of 31 Local Authority Culture and Creative Strategies 2018-2022 in Merrion Square yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Ryan Nugent and Laura Larkin

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refused to take more than one question on the CervicalCheck scandal following the release of the Scally report.

Dr Gabriel Scally found system-wide failings in the cervical screening process, which has affected the lives of hundreds of women and their families.

However, Mr Varadkar walked off after only answering one question about the national scandal, which has caused devastating heartache for those involved and this week saw his Government under fire after elements of the report were leaked before families were briefed on it.

In his report, Dr Scally suggested that no further inquiries into the controversy would be necessary, believing no further facts would be found.

Mr Varadkar said the Government's current position was still to hold a commission of investigation into the scandal. "The Government's decision is to have a commission of investigation and that has not yet been changed," he said.

The Taoiseach said a further inquiry was not a decision for the Government.

Pledge: Health Minister Simon Harris said ‘no knee-jerk reactions’. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Pledge: Health Minister Simon Harris said ‘no knee-jerk reactions’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"I really need to hear and the Government needs to hear from the women affected and their families, the patient reps, as to what their wishes are and we also need to consult with the opposition because ultimately this is a decision for the Oireachtas and not the Government," he said.

Mr Varadkar said a number of the women involved told him they would like something good to come from the controversy. He said two good things can come from it.

"The first is that we aim to make cervical cancer in Ireland a rare disease and that can be done by improving our screening programme and extending our HPV vaccines to boys and girls. We can do that and we're going to do that.

"The second really is to embed a culture in our health service of open disclosure of grace, of candour and of compassion," he added.

Health Minister Simon Harris pledged there would be "no more knee-jerk decisions" in relation to the scandal.

He conceded there may have been mistakes in his handling of the controversy to date, but he said all decisions stemmed from wanting to ease the pain and suffering of the women affected and their families.

In relation to the next step in terms of an investigation, he told RTÉ's 'Six One' that if a commission of investigation is the best way forward the Government will do it.

However, he said "if there's a better way of doing it... let's do it that way".

Labour TD Alan Kelly said a "short-term inquiry to compel witnesses is still needed". He also questioned whether the HSE would carry out an internal inquiry into the scandal.

"The question must be asked 'should the HSE be investigating themselves?'

"I don't believe the HSE should carry out this investigation internally, but it should be done externally through an investigative process working with Dr Scally," he said.

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee tweeted how the family of one woman was told by a doctor that nuns don't get cancer.

"Nuns don't get cervical cancer! My blood is boiling. All of the recommendations must be taken on board..." she wrote.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said every woman affected "must now be told exactly when they will get the chance to be briefed by Dr Gabriel Scally in person".

"Public confidence in the CervicalCheck system has been shaken. There's no two ways about it. Dr Scally's suggestions on how to restore that trust are essential. The trust that thousands of women placed in the system has been breached. Moving to mandatory disclosure is essential."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party would be guided by the Scally report in its consideration of whether or not there should be a commission of investigation.

He said they would consider the "overall importance of the cervical screening programme itself and the degree that it does work in terms of protecting many women and preventing the onset of cancer".

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Murphy said the "paternalistic" culture among some medics was exposed in the report.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News