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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets patient representatives ahead of apology for CervicalCheck scandal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar is set to apologise for failures in the CervicalCheck screening service when the Dáil returns from its summer break.

Mr Varadkar and health minister Simon Harris met with patient representatives Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap to discuss the forthcoming apology today.

Mr Harris said afterwards that it was an “excellent meeting”.

Ms Walsh - who developed cervical cancer - was one of 221 women whose smear tests were read incorrectly.

Mr Teap meanwhile, lost his wife Irene to the illness.

The meeting came a day after the publication of a report by Professor Brian MacCraith into an IT glitch that led to women failing to receive smear test results.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid apologised to more than 4,000 women affected by the IT problem in the latest CervicalCheck debacle.

Previously, reports by Dr Gabriel Scally outlined a range of failures in the CervicalCheck screening service.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris met with Ms Walsh and Mr Teap for around an hour and a half this afternoon.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Harris said he did not want to breach the confidence of the meeting but described it as “excellent”.

He said: “It was a really useful opportunity to catch up on a number of important issues in relation to our screening programme and a chance for the Taoiseach and myself to thank Lorraine and Stephen for the work that they’re doing.”

Mr Harris added: “There will be an apology from the Taoiseach. He’s already obviously committed to that.

“The Taoiseach obviously had a chance to discuss that with Lorraine and Stephen and I would expect that that apology will be forthcoming in the next Dáil term.”

Mr Harris said he expected there to be further engagement with the two patient representatives before this takes place.

He said: “it’s really important that the voice of the patient advocates remain in a very strong positon… in terms of all the improvements we want to make in our screening programme.”

He said he’s found their work, along with the contribution of Vicky Phelan – whose High Court case lifted the lid on the screening scandal - and others to be “invaluable”.

Mr Harris said: “We want to effectively eradicate cervical cancer in our country and we can do that.

“We’ll do it through the introduction of the HPV testing, HPV vaccine for boys. We’ve obviously got the Scally recommendations and the McCraith recommendations.”

Mr Harris also said: “I think the leadership shown by Paul Reid yesterday was very significant, the fact that you would have the new ceo of the HSE stand up, take full responsibility, apologise and not just do that but say ‘and here’s what we’re going to do to make it better’ is something that I as health minister very much appreciate.”

This afternoon the 221+ CevicalCheck Patient Support group released a statement on Ms Walsh and Mr Teap's meeting.

It said the meeting was held " to discuss all aspects of the role of the State in the CervicalCheck debacle and in particular the basis for a formal apology to the women and families impacted."

It added: "A full apology is only possible with a full understanding of what one was and is responsible for.

"Today’s meeting is the beginning of a new dialogue which is now more properly and fully informed in that regard by the work of people like Dr Gabriel Scally and, more recently, Prof Brian MacCraith which uncovered the shortcomings that led to this catastrophic systems failure."

The statement also said: "Our objective for an apology is that it begins a healing process for all those impacted negatively by CervicalCheck.

"Today’s discussions embraced that principle and were approached in a positive and constructive manner which we hope will now move to a public conclusion in a timely manner."

Ms Walsh said: “I think an apology is very important for healing.

“I think it’s important that the country realises what happened, the State realises what happened, acknowledge what happened so we can all move on and draw a line under this and realise that it shouldn’t have happened,” she told Virgin Media News.

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