Friday 14 December 2018

Varadkar and Harris pass the buck as they shift blame on to HSE

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: PA

Cormac McQuinn, Ralph Riegel and Laura Lynott

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris have been warned they are "not simply observers" in the cervical cancer screening scandal as they appeared to seek to shift the focus of the crisis to the HSE.

Mr Varadkar said it had been a "dreadful" week for the health service, while Mr Harris said it had been "horrific".

Both acknowledged the serious impact the CervicalCheck controversy has had on the women involved.

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly last night blamed the HSE and Department of Health for what he called "the worst week in the history of the Irish healthcare system".

He argued it has exposed a lack of accountability and transparency.

He warned that Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris "are not simply observers" and said the Government must take the lead in changing this.

Mr Kelly said there is a "crisis in confidence" in the health system and claimed Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris have to take their share of the responsibility.

Fianna Fáil's health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly last night called on HSE chief Tony O'Brien to resign "without prejudice with immediate effect".

He said the priority had to be supporting affected women, providing clinical assistance to all with concerns, and the investigation.

"We believe Mr O'Brien remaining in situ will distract from these priorities," he said.

The storm over cervical screening began when terminally ill mother-of-two Vicky Phelan was awarded €2.5m in a High Court settlement against a US lab after she was not informed about an incorrect smear test in 2011.

Ms Phelan yesterday suggested on RTÉ Radio that Mr Varadkar has been "a bit quiet" on the issue and that she wants "action" from the Government.

She has been seeking a public inquiry into what happened.

Mr Varadkar said he spoke to Ms Phelan and praised her as "the person who really shook the whole system up and woke us up to this".

He said he agrees with her that any inquiry should be "speedy" and "transparent".

The Taoiseach confirmed Ms Phelan will take part in the scoping exercise that will determine the nature of the inquiry.

Mr Varadkar said statutory inquiries can take many months and cautioned that if they're held in a public, tribunal-type format they can "take even longer".

However, he said he is "absolutely open" to a public inquiry being held.

The Irish Independent has learned the Government may recruit two female experts to conduct the scoping exercise.

There is also going to be a dedicated online portal where women who have been affected can contact the inquiry to share their experiences.

The screening scandal is set to dominate the political stage again next week as Sinn Féin is to table a motion of no confidence in HSE director general Tony O'Brien.

However, Mr Harris responded: "Instead of playing politics today, my priority is genuinely the women of Ireland"

Mr Varadkar said Mr O'Brien's term in office ends in less than 12 weeks and the Government expects him to "focus fully on resolving this issue".

He added: "We don't want to leave a gap or lacuna at the top of the HSE so we need him to focus on his job".

"This week has been a dreadful week for our health service, even more so for the women who are affected," he said.

He added that the Government will "do everything necessary... so that Irish women and families can have confidence in the investigations, screening and treatments we offer them both now and in future."

Irish Independent

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