Tag Archives: Aine Lawlor

RTÉ’s Áine Lawlor; Dr Peter McKenna of the HSE

This afternoon on RTÉ’s News At One.

Journalist Áine Lawlor spoke to Dr Peter McKenna, the clinical director of the women’s and infants’ programme with the HSE – after nobody from the HSE was available to speak to RTÉ’s earlier shows Morning Ireland or Today with Seán O’Rourke.

The lunchtime interview followed it emerging last night that approximately 800 women who had CervicalCheck tests carried out between October 1, 2018, and June 25, 2019, have not received their test results.

This has been blamed on an IT issue at a Quest Diagnostics laboratory in Virginia in the US.

Most of the women affected were getting repeat tests for the human papillomavirus HPV – which can cause cervical cancer – because Quest had previously failed to carry out HPV testing on the women’s initial smears within the 30-day limit.

RTÉ reported last night that the HSE told the Department of Health on Wednesday that it became aware of the IT problem in June.

This lunchtime, Dr McKenna told Ms Lawlor that the HSE knew there was a “computer glitch” in February.

From the interview:

Áine Lawlor: “The lesson on Gabriel Scally’s report about open disclosure and honesty and transparency with the women who are fundamental to the future of CervicalCheck and who depend on CervicalCheck – that lesson has not been learned by the health service.”

Dr Peter McKenna: “I wouldn’t agree with that, in principle. I think that there’s elements of this problem that only emerged to the HSE in the last ten days or so. And the extent of what needs to be communicated with women is not yet currently absolutely certain.”

Lawlor: “OK, well let’s try and establish the facts. So we’re talking about 800-plus women who had repeated cervical smear tests done between October 2018 and June 2019. Is that right?”

McKenna: “Yes, and these are women whose cytology results were known and they had a minor degree of abnormality and in order to see whether they needed to go for coloposcopy or not, an additional test of HPV was carried out.”

Lawlor: “So, in lay person’s language, they had had a previous smear test that had shown some abnormalities related to HPV and this was a repeat smear test to see whether there’d been any changes. Is that right?”

McKenna: “It’s a refinement, it’s a, a papaloma test, rather than a repeat smear test.”

Lawlor: “OK, so it was a more advanced test.”

McKenna: “It was a more advanced test, now, if you…”

Lawlor: “And the computer broke down when?”

McKenna: “No, no, sorry, just to go back even further than that. These 800 women were women who had had a HPV test carried out but, as you may remember, towards the end of last year, it transpired that the tests had been done on an out-of-date kit. I don’t know if that…”

Lawlor: “I think everybody remembers every twist and turn of this unfortunately Dr McKenna. So they had gone for tests again after that, is that right?”

McKenna: “No, so the kit was out of date. And those women that had come back as positive – they were treated as if the result was correct.

“And those women, who the result had come back as negative, it was said ‘no, we should take this seriously and we will repeat the test’. And so, 800 of these women, whose tests have come back as negative initially on the HPV, were then retested.”

Lawlor: “OK. And when did the computer breakdown?

McKenna:It was known in February that there was a computer glitch and…”

Lawlor: “Where was it known exactly, Dr Peter McKenna, because most of us knew nothing about this until yesterday and today. So the question is: this computer failure goes back to February.

Who knew about that back in February? And who has known about that since?

McKenna: “Well, my understanding is that, if I could just finish, that it was known in February and…”

Lawlor: “By whom?”

McKenna: “In whom the tests results altered were informed by CervicalCheck in February. So there was a small number of the 800 women, in whom the results were different, and they were informed directly by CervicalCheck. So the women who were affected were informed as soon as it was known.”

Lawlor: “But who knew about the fail…what does the computer failure involve? When did it happen and who knew about it?”

McKenna: “The computer is designed to…the computer of the labs overseas is designed to communicate with the computer here. And that triggers a, a cascade of letters. It was appreciated that wasn’t working and a manual system was put in place, as far as the HSE knew.”

Lawlor: “OK, it was appreciated by whom? Who appreciated this? And who made the decision to put the manual system in place? And why was none of this made public?”

McKenna: “Right. The answer to the names, I couldn’t give you. I don’t know. But however, it was appreciated within the screening service because the screening service put alternative, manual arrangements in place.”

Lawlor: “And did the HSE know that these computers weren’t working? And that manual arrangements were now being put in place to write to women? And was anybody checking that that was actually happening?”

McKenna: “The service did know that the computers were not speaking to each other – that is absolutely correct and the HSE were reassured by the fact that the women were being written to manually, or sorry, their GPs were being written to manually.”

Lawlor: “So the women’s doctors were being written to, by whom? Who was responsible for…”

McKenna: “By the laboratory.”

Lawlor: “By the laboratory.”

McKenna: “Yeah.”

Lawlor: “So CervicalCheck told the HSE and everybody understood that the laboratories would write to the women…”

McKenna: “Would write to the GPs….”

Lawlor: “Would write to the women’s doctors…”

McKenna: “Yeah…”

Lawlor: “And when did it emerge that this was not happening?

McKenna: This only came to the knowledge of the screening programme and the HSE in early July.

Lawlor:In early July, but a number of months had passed. Had it not occurred to anybody to get back and check, given the sensitivity and, as you say, there have a lot of twists and turns in all of this and we have had the Scally Report which has emphasised the importance of transparency – particularly if women are to go on turning up for smear tests as part of the cervical screening programme.”

McKenna: “I can absolutely understand that question. The HSE and the screening are very disappointed that the arrangement that they thought had been put in place wasn’t working. And this will be investigated as to why this element was not followed through by the contractor.”

Lawlor: “But this is what happened in the first place isn’t it? Somebody thought somebody was telling the women but nobody was?”

McKenna: “No, it’s not quite the same as that. That was the result of an audit. This is probably, in some ways, more important than actual clinical results – there was a delay in communication.”

Lawlor: I’m still kind of flabbergasted. Just one other thing – did the minister know? The minister’s department? We know that the HSE knew about this and understood it was being dealt with by the laboratory, and this only emerged in the last while, that you found out that the letters weren’t happening.

Was the minister’s office across this?

McKenna: “I would not…I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sorry.”

Lawlor: “OK, so you don’t know whether the Department of Health was involved?”

McKenna: “I don’t. No.”

Lawlor: “You said you can understand why women might not have confidence after everything. I mean this comes across like almost like a last straw, doesn’t it, for many women?”

McKenna: “It certainly doesn’t sound good. But I think it’s important to point out that these women have had cervical cytology – they do not have a severe grade of cervical abnormality. If they did they would have been referred directly to colposcopy. This is a delay in communicating the result of a second or a refined test which would indicate whether they should or shouldn’t go on to colposcopy.”

Lawlor: “Well we appreciate you coming on the programme to talk to us today.”

Listen back in full here

Earlier: ‘Why Wait Until An Hour After The Dáil Goes Into Recess To Let The Information Out Publicly?’




aine-lawlor_521Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 14.44.00

From top: RTÉ’s Áine Lawlor and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin

Fine Gael Health Minister Leo Varadkar was interviewed on Morning Ireland today.

During the interview Mr Varadkar levelled criticism against Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in relation to his time as Health Minister between 2000 to 2004.

Morning Ireland presenter Cathal MacCoille said Fianna Fáil was asked to come on the show, to respond to Mr Varadkar’s assertions, but the offer was turned down.

Further to this, Mr Martin spoke with Áine Lawlor on RTÉ’s News At One.

It got a bit… tetchy.

Áine Lawlor: “We’re joined now, from Galway, by the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and good afternoon to you.”

Micheál Martin: “Good afternoon you, Áine.”

Lawlor: “On the latest figures, even if the Fine Gael/Fiann Fáil coalition would be short won in getting a majority, is a grand coalition looking like the only answer?”

Martin: “Áine what figures are those?

Lawlor: “The Red C poll.”

Martin: “But you know by… first of all, by the way, I thought I was coming on to respond to Leo Varadkar this morning.”

Lawlor: “I’m not, I’ll come to that in a moment…sorry, I..”

Talk over each other

Martin: “I’ve answered these questions ad nauseam. The bottom line is…”

Lawlor: “No, just to say, Micheal Martin, just to say Micheal Martin, the reason I asked you about the poll is because I wanted to talk about the general state of the play in the campaign first before…”

Martin: “I know…”

Lawlor: “…going into accusations that have been, we can deal with that first if you’d rather?”

Martin: “No, I’ve no problem with it at all. But, just to say to you that that was the basis upon which this interview was agreed, from my perspective. I’ve no difficulty in answering your question and I’ve answered it before. I think we need to be very careful in terms of the parameters by which we’re going to judge this election and, particularly, the opinion polls. I’ve said in the past that, in the United Kingdom for example, opinion polls were out by 6.5% and the problem with that was it dictated the type of debate that was held in Britain. In other words, the British people never got to discuss what the Tories would do to their health system, or would do to their social welfare and so on. So we need to be careful in Ireland that we don’t allow the polls to dominate this debate to the exclusion of issues and the kind of country we want and Fianna Fáil have been saying, from the outset, that there’s a choice between the Irish people, that Fianna Fáil, between a Fianna Fáil-led Government that would focus on fairness, on a fair break for the self-employed and for enterprise and for decency in society as a whole as opposed to a Fine Gael-led government which will and look after the wealthiest in our society. And then it’s up to the people to decide, in relation to that choice, I think we’ve succeeded in doing that during this campaign…”

Lawlor: “Absolutely. Which is why…”

Talk over each other

Lawlor: “… which is why I am putting this question to you because you’re pre-supposing that we will be able to put a Government together. But given what the polls are indicating, at this point in time, and given what you have said and what Enda Kenny has said about who, and who you will not, go in with. The question before voters in the run-up to next Friday is whether there is any government that can be put together given what you’re all saying at the moment. So that’s why I’m asking you the question: is a grand coalition the only viable option?

Martin: I don’t agree with your premise and I’ve said this time and time again. I don’t agree with that premise. I think your discussion, and all of the discussion, is on the basis that the election has happened, the election has not happened. In the local elections for example, of where we can take that basis, we would have been discussing Fianna Fail coming in on third place.”

Talk over each other

Lawlor: “No the question is based, Micheal Martin, on the fact that the people of this country elect a Dáil…”

Martin: “Aine I would appreciate if you would allow me answer the question please.”

Lawlor: “Yes, but..”

Talk over each other

Lawlor:The people of this country will elect a Dáil. That Dáil’s job is to elect a Government. If the people of this country don’t want to be Portugal, don’t want to be Spain, don’t want to be paying higher interest rates, do want to have an actual Government, I’m asking you when that Dáil is elected will you do your part in working with other politicians to put a Government together because, at the moment, a Government may not result after next Friday.”

Martin:That’s the Fine Gael line you’re peddling in terms of Portugal. The Irish people aren’t responsible for Portugal, Italy or anybody else. We know there are international issues that are determining the global situation, not least the volatility in China and the uncertain situation there and other issues. My point is and my point, repeatedly has been, that this election hasn’t even begun. And I do not accept that the opinion polls may be correct in terms of what will actually happen. And you can go through constituency polls which give a far different perspective, by the way, of seats, than the national polls. I have said over a week ago that we will, just as we have been in the last Dail, responsible in terms of looking after this country. For example…”

Lawlor: “So you will play your part in putting a Government together after the 26th?”

Martin:Aine, could I just make a comment to you? I listened to Leo Varadkar this morning. He didn’t have this aggressive intervening and interruption every time I’m trying to put a coherent paragraph together. And I would appreciate it if I was allowed the same space that Government ministers are repeatedly allowed on RTE programmes. I really would appreciate it.”

Lawlor: “Micheal Martin, I can only answer for the interviews I do…the reason..”

Martin: “But I just want to make the point to you that..”

Lawlor: “I appreciate that but, I also think that you’ve been rather unfair on that challenge that you’ve put down there, so let’s move on and talk about the question of Leo Varadkar and the allegations that he made against you…”

Listen back in full here