THE Taoiseach has made a formal apology to the women and their loved ones who suffered in the fallout of the Cervical Check scandal, describing it as a debacle that has left the country "heartbroken".
He said he issued the apology after having met and listened to many of those affected.
“Today we say sorry to those whose lives were shattered, those whose lives were destroyed, and those whose lives could have been different,” Leo Varadkar said.
He expressed specific apologies for the failures of clinical governance, the failures of leadership and management, the failure to “tell the whole truth and do so in a timely manner”, for the humiliation, disrespect and deceit, the false reassurance and the attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle.
“We apologise to those who survived and still bear the scars, both physically and mentally. As do their families. We apologise to those who are here in our presence. To those watching from home who have kept it to themselves. We apologise to those passed on and who cannot be here,” the Taoiseach said.
"We acknowledge the failure that took place with CervicalCheck," he said.
The public gallery was packed with women and families who had suffered the fallout of the healthcare scandal, among them campaigner Vicky Phelan who arrived with Stephen Teap, whose wife, Irene, died in 2017 and who was only told in April 2018 that her smear tests from 2010 and 2013 were incorrect.
With them was Lorraine Walsh from Galway, whose misread smears deprived her of the chance to have a family.
Also in the gallery were women and other families affected by the scandal, who wiped away tears as they heard the Taoiseach’s words, as he said he accepted that today’s apology came “too late for some who were affected”, and how for others it will never be enough.
“Today’s apology is offered to all the people the State let down. And to the families who paid the price for those failings,” he said.
“A broken service, broken promises, broken lives – a debacle that left a country heartbroken. A system that was doomed to fail.”
“We apologise: to our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers,” the Taoiseach said.
“To the men who lost the centre of their lives and who every day have to try and pick up the pieces. The single fathers and grandparents. To the children who will always have a gaping hole in their lives.
“To all those grieving for what has been taken from them. The happy days that will never be.”
“A State apology may not provide closure, but I hope it will help to heal,” he said.
Meanwhile, he acknowledged the guilt of those who survived, thinking they were the ‘lucky ones’.
“Those who have lost their jobs and careers, their ability to have children, their feeling of self-worth. Who feel mutilated inside, who feel they have robbed their partner out of the possibility of having a child. A future stolen from them,” he said.
The Taoiseach said that while a State apology will not repair all that has been broken, nor restore all that has been lost, “we can make it count for something”.
Thanks to Dr Scally’s three reports into CervicalCheck we have discovered a lot of truths, he said.
A lot of the facts are now known – but some things we will never know, he admitted.
However, what they know they can now act on and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
All the recommendations in the Scally report will be implemented, the Taoiseach pledged.
And he quoted Vicky Phelan as he said he wants "something good to come out of all of this".
“Speaking as a doctor, as well as a politician, a brother and a son, I know the lessons we must learn,” he said.
“We need a better culture in our health service, one that treats patients with respect and always tells the truth. One that is never paternalistic - doctor doesn’t always know best.
"We must always share full information with our patients, admit mistakes, and put the person first. There is no information about a patient that the patient should not know. No patient should ever feel stonewalled by the system. We should never act or fail to act out of fear of litigation or recrimination.”
And he said the involvement of patient advocates like Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh and others has shaped and enhanced our response.
The Open Disclosure policy has been revised so that in the future patients will have full knowledge about their care and treatment, he said.
“They will be informed when things go wrong, met to discuss what happened, and receive a sincere apology if an error was made while caring for them. Above all, patients will be treated with compassion and empathy,” the Taoiseach said.
Meanwhile, he said the new Patient Safety Bill will provide for the mandatory reporting of serious reportable events and will establish a statutory duty of candour.
A new Independent Patient Safety Council will also be established, with its first task to undertake a detailed review of the policies on Open Disclosure across the whole healthcare landscape.
We are also switching to primary HPV screening, with Ireland becoming one of the first countries in the world to adopt this new more accurate screening test, he said, while also extending the ever-developing HPV vaccine to boys.
Investment is being made in better facilities in Ireland like a national cervical screening laboratory, in conjunction with the Coombe, the Taoiseach said. He added that this enhanced facility will take some time to develop, but will provide a better balance between public and private provision of laboratory services to the cervical screening programme, always putting quality ahead of cost.
“It will bring more testing back to Ireland,” he said.
Meanwhile, he spoke of the need to restore confidence in screening.
“We also need to listen to those who have suffered and learn from their stories so we can find justice,” he said.
“In July we established the CervicalCheck Tribunal, a statutory tribunal to deal with the issue of liability in CervicalCheck cases. It won’t be perfect, but it will be quicker, with a dedicated judge and independent experts, less adversarial than court,” he said, while adding that women will still have the right to go to court.
“We established an ex-gratia compensation scheme for those affected by the non-disclosure of the Cervical Check audit to provide financial compensation without the need to go to court,” the Taoiseach said.
However, he acknowledged that this was never about money.
"This was about accountability, discovering what happened and why, providing justice and finding peace. It was about making a meaningful acknowledgement of what happened, and giving an assurance that this won’t happen again to anyone else,” he said.
“What happened to so many women and families should not have happened. While every case was not negligence, every case was a lost opportunity for an earlier diagnosis and treatment.
"It was a failure of our health service, State, its agencies, systems and culture.”
“We’ve found out the truth and the facts,” he told the Dáil.
“We’re making changes to put things right. We need to restore trust and repair relationships.”
“On behalf of the Government and the State, I am sorry it happened. And I apologise to all those hurt or wronged. We vow to make sure it never happens again,” the Taoiseach said.