Wednesday 19 June 2019

Cervical Check controversy - 'Many questions to be answered' says Minister Kehoe

As the cervical check controversy rumbles on, Esther Hayden talks to Wexford TD and minister, Paul Kehoe

Esther Hayden

Director General of the HSE, Tony O'Brien, shouldn't step down despite the CervicalCheck controversy according to Minister Paul Kehoe who believes that Mr O'Brien has questions to answer.

Minister Kehoe said that Mr O'Brien needs to remain in situ so he can provide answers during the pending inquiry into the scandal.

'This is not about getting a head on a plate. The most important thing is to find out what happened. It would be very easy to say I have no confidence in Tony O'Brien and show him the door. I believe he has a lot of questions to answer here as leader of the HSE.

'He came before Government last week and apologised but there is still a huge amount of questions to be answered. I believe he should be very much part of the scoping inquiry to see what he knew and when etc. He needs to be part and parcel of the investigation.'

Minister Kehoe said Vicky Phelan and her family has shown great courage and dignity in recent days.

'Like everyone I was extremely saddened to hear of her case and my thoughts are with her and her family. I also echo the plea made by Vicky Phelan for women to continue having a cervical check.

'I appreciate the deep concern expressed by women in Wexford and beyond in relation to what is nothing short of a scandal. The Government's priority is to get to the bottom of what happened here, and reassure women by restoring trust in the cervical cancer screening programme.

'My heart goes out to the women affected. You try to put yourself into the shoes of the families affected but you don't want to because it is simply too harrowing. Vicky Phelan has given all of these women the courage to come out and tell their stories.'

He said that an inquiry will be set up to look into the matter and the results of this are expected in June.

'Minister for Health, Simon Harris, is working on a Scoping Inquiry which will be led by an international expert and can be done as a matter of urgency.

'This approach can establish some basic facts and put these in the public domain, while also identifying any remaining issues that may merit a full Statutory Investigation and developing terms of reference for such an investigation. It is Minister Harris' clear intention that this process would include engagement with Vicky Phelan and other women who may wish to have an input.

'The Taoiseach has said there will be a redress scheme for women whose cancer was missed and should have been detected beyond normal error and for women where there was a breach of duty to inform them of the audit results.

'An International Peer Review Group will be also established to examine our cervical screening programme against international best practice and standards. This will identify any implications that may apply to other cancer screening programmes to ensure that any learning will have wider impact and serve to improve all our screening programmes.

Minister Kehoe said that despite the scandal it is imperative that people still continue to go for cancer screening.

'It is vitally important that women continue to go for their smear tests. Since the introduction of CervicalCheck in 2008, our cervical cancer rates have significantly reduced. Some 3 million smear tests have been carried out by CervicalCheck and it has detected over 50,000 pre-cancerous changes in women.' He said that while he hoped the full extent of the scandal has emerged he couldn't say for definite that it had.

'I'd love to be able to say that that's the extent of it but I can't say that. We weren't aware last week after Vicky Phelan's court case about the extent of it but hopefully nothing else will emerge.'

Minister Kehoe said that a new, more accurate test for cervical cancer is being introduced in Ireland later this year.

'The Government is bringing in a new more accurate test for cervical cancer, a HPV based test. Its accuracy is significantly higher than liquid based cytology testing, which is the testing used now, and is expected to result in fewer women receiving a false negative result.

'This test will be available to all women who want it. They will not have to wait three years for their routine appointment

'We will be one the first countries in the world to move to this form of test.'

New Ross Standard