Wednesday 23 October 2019

'Damn bloody right he should take it personally' - minister sharply criticises HSE chief but says she retains confidence in him

  • Minister says letting HSE chief resign would be too easy
  • Confidence has been shaken in all screening programmes - minister
  • Harris welcomes commitment by O'Brien to spending remainder of his tenure focused on the issue
Minister Regina Doherty
Minister Regina Doherty Newsdesk

A SENIOR Government minister has sharply criticised HSE chief Tony O'Brien - but said she does not believe he should step down as "letting him resign would be too easy".

Minister Regina Doherty said it would be difficult to describe the cervical cancer screening in any other terms than a "national scandal" that has shaken "every woman in this country over the age of 20 to their core".

When questioned about Mr O'Brien's response to the controversy, Ms Doherty said the HSE boss "keeps moving the goalposts".

"I don't understand some of the statements that he's made over the last couple of days because he keeps moving the goalposts," she told RTE's Radio One Drivetime. 

"Last week he wasn't aware of the situation until he heard it on the news. He issued figures and numbers to the minister one day, entirely different figures the next day.

"Today he brings more information into the public domain and actually what that displays to women is that the most senior civil servant in the HSE, that is responsible for delivering safe and timely healthcare, isn't doing it.

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke

"I'm trying to be generous to him - even though it's difficult," she added.

"When he tells the health committee today that he takes this very personally, damn bloody right he should take it personally because this is a disgrace," she said.

"First of all that he isn't aware of this information about clinical programmes that he is actually overseeing and second of all he is in charge of making sure that the services he delivers... are safe, are timely, are reflective of the needs we have and can be trusted in - which is something that has genuinely been shook to the core," she said.

Earlier Mr O'Brien told an Oireachtas health committee that the scandal is a "personal blow" to him, having started his career in BreastCheck.

Responding, Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said "you are the last person this is about".

Mr O'Brien also confirmed he will not be resigning despite calls from some opposition TDs.

Ms Doherty said she does not believe Mr O'Brien should resign - 12 weeks before he is due to retire.

"Letting him resign now would be too easy. Absolutely he should stay there and absolutely he should devote every single hour and every single minute to make sure that we get clarity of information, of purpose and delivery of this particular service, that there is no stone left unturned."

Despite her criticism of the health boss she said she has confidence in him getting to the bottom of the matter.

She said that it is his responsibility to find out if the CervicalCheck scandal was a cover-up or a cock-up, and that he needs to move "damn bloody swiftly" to reassure the women of Ireland.

STRENGTH: Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Darragh. Photo: Fergal Phillips
STRENGTH: Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Darragh. Photo: Fergal Phillips

She also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to investigating the underlying issues with the screening process.

"The most important thing that we can do as a Government is get to the bottom of this and to make sure that whoever is accountable and responsible is held accountable," she added.

Confidence has been shaken in not only CervicalCheck but also in other screening programmes, the minister said.

Ms Doherty also commended Vicky Phelan for her strength and courage in taking the case.

Speaking on RTE's Six One Minister Harris also said he believes Mr O'Brien should finish out his career in Ireland in the way he began it - putting in place proper cancer screening processes.

He said he was glad to hear Mr O'Brien commit to devoting the remainder of his career examining issues related to CervicalCheck.

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