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Monday 17 June 2019

'I was the victim of a McCarthyite campaign': Crown

Maeve Sheehan and Ronald Quinlan

THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of waging a McCarthyite campaign against a top consultant after he was mysteriously dropped at the last minute from a Late Late Show panel to discuss the latest cancer crisis in the health service.

John Crown, the oncologist who has slated the Government's handling of the cancer misdiagnosis, has suggested there was political interference in RTE's decision to drop him hours before it was broadcast.

Presenter Pat Kenny told Mr Crown a decision was taken at "a higher level" in RTE but the State broadcaster denies political interference.

John Crown, one of the Department of Health's most vocal critics, claimed yesterday that he was dropped from the panel on the orders of Cathal Goan, RTE's director general -- a claim which the national broadcaster has strenuously denied. "I am hearing from multiple sources that it was from the level of Mr Goan," he said.

A spokesman for Mary Harney, the health minister, said reports that her office called the director general to get Mr Crown off the show were totally without foundation.

The bitter exchanges between government figures and Mr Crown escalated last week as the scandal about cancer misdiagnosis at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise deepened.

Seven women who were given the all-clear for breast cancer at the hospital have been told they have the disease and a further six are awaiting further test results.

A consultant radiologist has been sent on administrative leave and Mary Harney has demanded an urgent report from the Health Services Executive.

In the Dail last week, the Taoiseach levelled several uncharacteristically personalised swipes at Mr Crown and the retired cardiac surgeon, Maurice Neligan.

Mr Crown said this weekend he was "chilled" by Mr Ahern's claim that he had "briefing notes" and asked if Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, was compiling "McCarthyesque dossiers" on critics.

The Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent yesterday that no pressure was brought to bear on RTE, saying he didn't even know Mr Crown was due to appear on the Late Late Show. "Our powers don't extend to deciding who is on the Late Late Show," he said. Asked if he wished the government's powers extended that far, Mr Ahern joked: "I'd be happy."

However, government sources were scathing about Mr Crown.

"He is one of these people who has an incredibly strong and incredibly arrogant view of how the health service can be run and he is prepared to articulate that, and in my view, to do it in a very nasty way that personally attacks Mary Harney," said one senior source.

"Whatever else, she has absolute integrity and commitment to deliver a better health service."

When Eamon Gilmore, the Labour Party leader, quoted Mr Crown and the retired heart surgeon, Maurice Neligan during heated exchanges on the cancer misdiagnosis crisis last week, Mr Ahern replied witheringly that Mr Crown had "a huge private practice along with his public practice and good luck to him."

The Taoiseach added consultants earned much more than he did.

And in what Fine Gael's health spokesman, James Reilly called a "sinister" reference yesterday, the Taoiseach said "I have been very careful not to cast aspersions on the people involved. I have not even used the briefing notes I have had."

Mr Crown writes in the Sunday Independent today that the reference "chilled him to the bone."

"I, for one, would like to know what is in these briefing notes. Who were they about? Was it about doctors who have been caught up in the quality-of-care scandals, or was it about those who spoke up? Was public money spent compiling McCarthy-esque dossiers for his privileged use in the Dail chamber?" he writes.

The Taoiseach also singled out Maurice Neligan, saying he wasn't there to judge whether the cardiac surgeon had "made a mistake or not and somebody died" before he retired.

Mr Crown told the Sunday Independent this weekend: "I have no doubt that there are attempts being made to control doctors in general and me in particular.

"In the past few weeks, the Taoiseach has said that doctors who speak out about the health service should be shown the red card. There were his personalised references to Maurice Neligan and myself in the Dail. There is the question of what exactly is in those briefing dossiers. And there is what happened with RTE and the Late Late Show on Friday night.

"The question I have for RTE is can someone explain to me what public interest was served in not allowing me to express my opinions."

RTE said a decision was taken on Friday to reconfigure the show's panel to represent as broad a spectrum of opinions as possible.

"As a consequence, one panellist was changed in yesterday evening's line-up," it said. "RTE would like to strongly state that this decision was taken internally."

Mr Crown was replaced by Professor Maccon Keane, a consultant oncologist at University College Hospital, Galway.

The other panellists were journalists Eamon Dunphy and Mary Raftery, and Gerry Robinson, a former television executive.

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