Doherty: Tony O’Brien should ‘absolutely’ stay in position

HSE director general should work ‘day in, day out’ to get accountability, Minister says

HSE director general Tony O’Brien “absolutely” should stay in his position and work “day in, day out” to get accountability and the facts around the cervical cancer screening scandal, a Government Minister has said.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty said Mr O'Brien "absolutely should stay" in his position.

Mr O’Brien has been head of numerous sections within the health service, she said, “so he knows the system inside out. It’s far from letting him off, we should be”.

An inquiry is to examine the issues surrounding the CervicalCheck programme, highlighted first by the case of Vicky Phelan. She settled a High Court action against a US laboratory used by CervicalCheck for €2.5 million at the end of April.


It subsequently emerged 209 women had been affected by the screening scandal, many of whom were not told of “false negative” screening results , and 17 women subsequently died.

Ms Doherty told Newstalk Breakfast Mr O’Brien should be “redoubling his efforts” to get accountability in the wake of the scandal.

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the Government should honour Ms Phelan, who is now terminally ill, by getting to the bottom of the scandal.

“It is a scandal that people are not being held accountable. What happened to Vicky Phelan is a tragedy,” he added. Mr Ross said he refused to be judge and jury for Mr O’Brien but that the Independent Alliance, of which he is a member, was very concerned about impunity.

The Cabinet is discussing the terms of reference for a scoping inquiry into the issue on Tuesday and will also discuss the re-establishment of a board to oversee the HSE. It will also consider the position of Mr O’Brien.

The inquiry will examine the outsourcing of services to laboratories in the United States. It will also seek to establish the background to CervicalCheck's failure to tell women what clinical audits of their screens had found and how much the HSE and Department of Health knew about this.

The inquiry will be chaired by an independent health management expert from the United Kingdom and will report to Minister for Health Simon Harris in June.

It will also talk to Vicky Phelan, who was briefed on scope of inquiry by Mr Harris. The scoping exercise will allow for other persons affected by this controversy to feed into potential terms of reference for a commission of investigation.

On Monday night Mr O'Brien took issue with comments by Minister of State at the Department of Health Jim Daly that he would step down from his post earlier than anticipated.

In a letter to the secretary general of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, Mr O'Brien maintained the Minister's remarks had been made with only "partial knowledge of discussions" that had been under way on the issue.

Mr O’Brien said Mr Daly’s comments on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme on Sunday had led to speculation and suggestions that he would be leaving his post of HSE director general four weeks early.

Mr O’Brien maintained he always planned to take leave at the end of June. His contract runs until the end of July.

On the programme Mr Daly said that Mr O’Brien would be leaving at the start of July as he would be taking accumulated annual leave.

The Fianna Fáil front bench is expected to consider on Tuesday a motion of no confidence that Sinn Féin is seeking to table on Mr O'Brien.

Meanwhile, the HSE said 7,678 women who contacted the helpline since April 28th had asked to be called back and that so far 2,686 of those calls have been returned.