Wednesday 18 July 2018

Eilis O'Hanlon: Treating doctors like gods makes mistakes more likely to happen

It's not healthy to grant power without challenge to a small group of people - especially when political oversight is so poor, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Tony O’Brien, the Director General of the HSE
Tony O’Brien, the Director General of the HSE

If any confirmation was needed that those in charge of the Irish health system still haven't understood why the cervical cancer screening scandal has caused such anguish, the statement issued by the Health Service Executive (HSE) last week should remove all remaining doubt.

The statement correctly went out of its way to reassure patients that the cancer screening regime was "safe and effective and that the quality of the laboratory testing carried out by the programme is as it should be". The last thing anyone wants is to discourage women from availing of a service which saves lives. It's terrifying to think of the number of mistakes that are routinely made, and how fatal the consequences can be for the small number of people affected, but all screening programmes have a margin of error. The important consideration is what happens when mistakes are identified.

That's where the distress originates, and that's what the HSE is apparently still struggling to comprehend, since it ends its statement of reassurance to women by stating: "We are committed to sharing information and to letting people know what's happening now and what will happen next."

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