From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin
During Leaders’ Questions.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is being asked about the case of Vicky Phelan and the CervicalCheck scandal – ahead of the Minister for Health Simon Harris taking questions on the matter later this evening, after 6pm.
He has told the Dáil that the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) will carry out an inquiry into the matter – and that such an inquiry is the “best way to do it”.
Readers will recall that on April 16, Mr Harris was notified of Ms Phelan’s case via a memo from Department of Health officials. This memo is expected to be published in redacted form this evening.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil that he and his party’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly discussed this memo with Mr Harris and some of his officials this morning.
Mr Martin said:
“It was revealed there that there were, there had been intense discussions between department officials and CervicalCheck in advance of this case and in relation to this case. But the Minister wasn’t told anything about those discussions is what I picked up about that.
“We know that in July 2016 the former clinical director of CervicalCheck [Dr Gráinne Flannelly] sent a letter to clinicians outlining a three-point plan. And the last point in that was in cases where a woman has died simply ensure the result is recorded in the woman’s notes.
It was that coldly clinical. One would argue illegal as well – to deprive a family of vital information of that kind which was the intention of that plan…question is: who else was aware of that plan?”
“…the memo to the minister anticipates adverse publicity because a press release is prepared for the minister in the event of the case going public and some of the information in the memo is, to me it appears to be, wrong and inaccurate and false in that the sense is created in the memo that women were informed of their results when, in fact, we now know that the women were not informed of their results…”
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil:
“I am very angry on behalf of the 160 or so women who were not told of the results of the audit, even though it wouldn’t have made a difference in their case in terms of treatment or prognosis or outcome because they had already been diagnosed with cancer at that stage. They still should have been told.
“…In terms of the actions that are now going to take place, first of all, there will be a statutory inquiry, led by HIQA. We believe that’s the best way to do it. It’s the quickest way to do it. We need answers in months, not years. And also they have the skills and the statutory powers to do so…”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald told Mr Varadkar the director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien’s position is “untenable and he needs to go” and that, if he doesn’t resign, Mr Varadkar should “sack him”.
In relation to this, Mr Varadkar said:
“You’ve called for the dismissal of Tony O’Brien. It’s based on an assertion that the decision to outsource these tests to the US in 2008 somehow cost lives. I explained why that is not yet supported by the facts. And I think everyone, even Tony O’Brien, deserves a fair hearing before they’re condemned. And we need to assess as to whether that decision or not was a wrong one. And it may not turn out to be wrong. And I think we need to be fair about that in that regard.”
More as we get it.