Cervical cancer scandal: SF chief alleges ‘culture of concealment’

Mary Lou McDonald critical of way Vicky Phelan ‘pursued and forced into court’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: “Under no circumstance should the other cases that I understand are in the system be fought in that same aggressive way.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: “Under no circumstance should the other cases that I understand are in the system be fought in that same aggressive way.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Political leaders have demanded full accountability from the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health for the delay in informing women they were wrongly given the all-clear from cancer.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to ensure those responsible for the failures are held to account by the Government.

The clinical director of the Cervical Check programme Dr Gráinne Flannelly stood aside from her position on Saturday after the Minister declined to express confidence in her.

However, Ms McDonald said those in the HSE and the Department who may have been aware of this controversy should face similar consequences.

Without accountability, the Sinn Fein leader claimed the “culture of concealment and harassment within the HSE” will continue to prevail.

She added: “The Minister for Health must ensure that the full facts are established and that those responsible these devastating failures are held to account.

“That must involve serious questions being put to not only those in charge of the Cervical Check programme but also the leadership of the HSE.”

The Minister for Health has said he first became aware of the case of Vicky Phelan, a mother of two who is dying of cervical cancer, on April 16th when he received an information note about the legal challenge. However, this did not include the specific details of her case.

Ms Phelan settled a High Court action last week against the US-based laboratory subcontracted by CervicalCheck to assess the tests.

It then emerged Ms Phelan was one of 206 women whose diagnosis was delayed and some of these women were not informed of the situation. The figures, covering a 10-year period, were released by the HSE and Mr Harris has insisted this is the first he became aware of them.

Meanwhile, the Labour leader has called on Mr Harris to ensure all the facts are made available to each the women involved.

Mr Howlin insisted such information should also be laid out in the Dail without “fear or favour” because the speculation was leaving women to fear they have been affected by the crisis.

Accountability at national and local level is now required to ensure people can have faith in the screening programme, he added.

The HSE said that since 2008 the CervicalCheck programme had been notified of 1,482 cases of women who developed cervical cancer.

It said in the majority of these cases there had been no requirement for further review.

However, in 442 cases - almost 30 per cent of the total - a review was warranted, and in almost half of these cases, earlier intervention was suggested.

According to the HSE, of those 442 cases, 206 cytology reviews suggested “a different result that would have recommended an investigation to occur at an earlier stage”.

A review team established by the Minister for Health is now examining those 206 cases to assess why there was a failure in notifying the women involved.

Officials from CervicalCheck, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are also expected to be called before an Oireachtas health committee next week to answer questions on the controversy.

Committee chairman Independent Michael Harty said he plans to call the officials before the group “as soon as possible” and intends to schedule a meeting next week.