From top: Fianna Fail leader Mícheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; FFl TD Stephen Donnelly at an Oireachtas health committee meeting this morning; a tweet from Health Minister Simon Harris on April 28 last, offering women free repeat smears
In the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin raised the submission made by the former clinical director of CervicalCheck Gráinne Flannelly to the Oireachtas health committee – revealed this morning – in which she said she warned the Department of Health against offering free out-of-cycle smear tests to concerned women following the Vicky Phelan case last April.
As the Minister for Health Simon Harris previously stated he didn’t receive any warnings against the decision to offer the extra tests, Ms Flannelly’s submission has led some to claim Mr Harris misled the Dáil.
Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly told the health committee this morning:
“What she [Gráinne Flannelly] says directly contradicts the minister’s position.
“And what she says suggests that the minister has, in fact, misled the Dail.”
Minister Harris has since said today:
“I never received any contrary advice in relation to the provision of free repeat smear tests.
“It is clear that after the decision was made that some in the CervicalCheck programme did express some concerns about the operationalising of it.”
According to Ms Flannelly she was told of the move to offer the tests at lunchtime on April 28, 2018 – while Minister Harris announced the move at 5.13pm that evening on Twitter.
During Leaders’ Questions Mr Martin told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Ms Flannelly’s claim “flatly contradicts” that of Minister Harris.
He asked the Taoiseach if he’ll ask the minister to address the Dáil and explain the full sequence of events. He also said the minister’s response to the matter “lacked character”.
Mr Varadkar told Mr Martin that the minister has previously answered questions on the subject and would be happy to do so again.
He then said:
“I think your approach here and your attack here also lacks character. Remember what you said about these people, what you said about the senior people in CervicalCheck on the 1st of May [last year].
“You said that they were cold and calculating. You suggested that they may have been involved in illegality and you suggested that they could have been involved in a conspiracy.
“So perhaps you should reflect on that and if you now hold the views you hold today, you may wish to correct the record and withdraw those remarks that you made about those senior clinicians and senior people in CervicalCheck back on the first of May.
“The reality was that the situation at the time was that there were a lot of women who were really concerned about the accuracy of their smear tests. They were attending their GPs, looking for a repeat smear test.
“They were contacting the helpline looking for a repeat test, there were some doctors calling for repeat smear tests to be allowed. When it was done, patient advocates were calling for it too.
“When it was done, it was welcomed by the Opposition and it was agreed by the IMO. So this wasn’t just a decision made by the Minister for Health. And it was also made with agreement for the Chief Medical Officer.”
Ms Flannelly says she warned that the offer of extra tests would ‘fundamentally undermine the screening programme’. She resigned on the same day the offer was announced.
Last month, Mr Harris told the Dáil that before the decision was made to offer these extra tests, neither he nor his officials received advice against the move.
It’s since emerged almost 80,000 women are now waiting up to 33 weeks for results of their smear tests when the normal waiting time is five to six weeks.
Earlier: Compare And Contrast