CervicalCheck: Harris will consider expert’s view no further inquiry needed

Vicky Phelan, the woman whose case revealed controversy, says finding is a ‘whitewash’

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died in 2017 has said the priority now is to ensure the immediate implementation of the recommendations from the Scally Report. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he will consider the view of the public health expert asked to investigate the CervicalCheck controversy that a commission of investigation was not needed into the affair.

Mr Harris was reacting to reports in The Irish Times and on RTÉ this morning that Dr Gabriel Scally, who was asked by the Government to carry out a scoping report into the controversy, had concluded a commission was not required, despite the stated view by Mr Harris that a commission be held.

It is understood Dr Scally’s report says there are other ways to deal with the issues involved other than through a commission of investigation.

The women and families affected by the CervicalCheck controversy reacted angrily on Tuesday after some findings emerged.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday afternoon the Government position was there should be a commission of inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy but people needed to read the report and understand why Dr Scally had suggested a commission may not be necessary.

Mr Varadkar said he was “disgusted” some information from the unpublished report had emerged in the media today.

Sensitive issue

He said it was not a normal story. “This is a very sensitive issue and one that affects some women who are very ill and a lot of families who are grieving and is something that I am appalled to find out has happened.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he would like to read the Scally report before deciding if there should be a commission of investigation into the controversy.

He also accused the Government and Minister for Health Simon Harris of mismanaging the CervicalCheck issue from “the get go”.

“They said in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, they said anything that would get them out of what they perceived to be political embarrassment or trouble.

“They said things like we will give indemnity in the courts. To such an extent that the entire CervicalCheck screening programme could be in jeopardy. From the moment that Minister Harris was briefed by officials, I think he got this wrong, in terms of managing it and dealing with it in a comprehensive, professional way.”

Dr Scally investigated why women diagnosed with cervical cancer were not told about audits that revised past smear test results that might have resulted in them receiving earlier intervention.

A planned briefing for Lorraine Walsh, one of the women affected by the controversy who represents patients on a steering committee set up by the Minister, Vicky Phelan, the terminally-ill Limerick woman whose court settlement revealed the controversy, and Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died last year and was not told about two incorrect smear tests, by Dr Scally on Wednesday has now been brought forward to this afternoon.

Mr Harris said he intended to publish Dr Scally’s 200-page scoping report as planned tomorrow and allow the Northern Irish doctor speak about the report and the reasons why he believed a commission was not needed.

Mr Harris said he would meet Opposition parties and people affected by the controversy and then decide whether a commission was still needed.

“Absolutely, if there is a feeling that there is a need for one, that would be the case,” Mr Harris told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“The only people who can change that decision are the Government and the Oireachtas but obviously if a very eminent expert has been asked to look at this area and has made a view, I think it is important that we at least let the report be published and consider why he arrived at the point.”

‘Whitewash’

Mr Harris said the report was “robust, evidence-based and very comprehensive” and people should wait for the document to be published to hear Dr Scally’s viewpoint on a commission of investigation and debate in the Oireachtas and with the people affected by the controversy.

“I do think we should wait the 24 hours, let the report speak for itself, let Dr Scally speak to the report and then let’s decide as an Oireachtas and a Government what next steps to take in consultation with the women and their families who have been impacted,” said Mr Harris.

Ms Phelan described some of the findings a “whitewash” and said she found herself in the “same position as I did a few months ago when I found out that I had not been informed about my own health”.

“Information continues to be withheld from women and I will continue to fight back,” she tweeted.

Vicky Phelan said information continues to be withheld from women and she will ‘continue to fight back’. Photograph: The Irish Times
Vicky Phelan said information continues to be withheld from women and she will ‘continue to fight back’. Photograph: The Irish Times

Mr Teap said he could not comment on whether a commission of investigation was needed “without forming my own view on the back of being briefed about the report.”

“If there is no need for a commission of investigation, it will be on my opinion of the briefing and reading of the Scally report and coming to that conclusion myself,” he told The Irish Times.

In a tweet Mr Teap said he was “heartbroken this morning at the disrespect shown towards the woman and families in this scandal by Government”. It was “very upsetting waking up to this”.

The Cork man told The Irish Times he was “absolutely devastated” to find out information from the Scally report in the media when they had wanted a brief in advance of publication to be able to update the families affected.

‘No consideration’

“This was leaked with no consideration to the feelings of the families and the women in particular some of whom are very, very sick and are going through treatment and have gone through so much already,” he said.

“It is very insensitive. Everybody is out to protect themselves without putting the families’ needs first.”

Ms Walsh said she could not say if she agreed with Dr Scally’s view that a commission of investigation was not needed without seeing the full report.

She said the group had been told they would be briefed prior to the report going to Cabinet or published. “And to wake up this morning and to see news of it all over the papers, it’s just heartbreaking.”

“It’s just so disappointing that throughout this whole experience that the main information source that we have is the media.”

Mr Harris said “truthfully” he does not know who leaked the details of the Scally review but he intends to find out. However, it was not a priority for him today.

Mr Harris said he did not know how a leak of some of the findings emerged in the media but said there were 50 recommendations in the report and none of these had been reported as yet, he said on Tuesday.

Dr Gabriel Scally briefed Mr Harris on Monday ahead of the publication of the report on Wednesday.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said he was “disgusted” and “shocked” that some findings had emerged today and described this as “the worst example I have seen of a government trying to control the message by getting something like this out there”.

“It is obviously something that somebody somewhere or some group have for their own motivations have decided to leak. It is absolutely shocking,” said Mr Kelly.