CervicalCheck: Dismay among health service staff over Varadkar’s ‘deceit’ admission

Taoiseach makes remark in State apology to women affected by CervicalCheck scandal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers a State apology in the Dáil to the women and their families impacted by the cervical smear test controversy. Video: Oireachtas TV

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s claim during his Dáil apology on the CervicalCheck controversy that women were subject to “deceit” has caused concern among senior staff within the health service, according to sources.

Delivering a formal State apology for the “litany of failures” in the cervical screening programme, Mr Varadkar said “we are sorry for the humiliation, disrespect and deceit” meted out to the hundreds of women affected by the controversy.

This is the first time a Government minister has said “deceit” was involved.

Northern Irish public health doctor Gabriel Scally was highly critical of CervicalCheck in his Government-commissioned report published last year, but made no mention of deceit and insisted there was no evidence of any cover-up.


Health sources said the Taoiseach’s use of the word has caused considerable dismay among senior staff, including those in screening services. His admission could make it more difficult for the State to defend future court cases taken by women suing the service, it is claimed.


A Government source said the use of the word arose from discussions that had taken place with some of those affected, who were concerned about the explanations they had been given.

STATE APOLOGY: Lorraine Walsh (left) and Vicky Phelan, who both contracted cervical cancer and now campaign for improved services to combat it, leave Leinster House on Tuesday after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered a State apology for mishandling of cancer smear testing. Photograph: Tom Honan

The CervicalCheck controversy erupted last year when it emerged hundreds of women with cervical cancer had not been told of a subsequent audit of their smear tests. In many cases, the audit produced a different test result from the original smear, meaning their cancer might have been treated differently. Over 20 of these women have died.

It is a first step in the process of rebuilding confidence in the capacity of the State to put the patient first

In the Dáil, the Taoiseach said: “We say sorry to those whose lives were shattered, those whose lives were destroyed, and those whose lives could have been different.”

Mr Varadkar said they knew cancer screening programmes could not detect all cancers. “We also know that many failures have taken place.”

Timely manner

He also apologised for the failure to tell the whole truth and to do so in a timely manner.

“We are sorry for failures of clinical governance; failures of leadership and management; failure to tell the whole truth and do so in a timely manner; the humiliation, disrespect and deceit; the false reassurance; the attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle.”

The 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group, which represents many of the women affected by the controversy, described the Taoiseach’s apology as “a watershed moment” with “huge significance”.

“It is a first step in the process of rebuilding confidence in the capacity of the State to put the patient first in the delivery of public healthcare generally, and for women’s health specifically.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.