HSE defends delaying telling patients after ‘an adverse event’

Officials warn disclosures ‘could be more harmful than beneficial’ amid smear test inquiry

Vicky Phelan who settled a High Court action after her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed. Photograph: Collins Courts

Vicky Phelan who settled a High Court action after her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The Health Service Executive has continued to defend a policy of delaying the disclosure of information to patients claiming that consideration must be given as to whether it “could be more harmful than beneficial”.

In documents sent to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee ahead of an appearance by health officials on Thursday, the HSE said hospitals and doctors should disclose information to patients “following an adverse event”.

However, a HSE briefing note for the committee says the “appropriate timing of disclosure” may not always be clear and can depend on factors including the “degree of harm the service user has experienced” and the “availability of the service user”.

“Deferral, either temporary or permanent, may be a consideration in the following circumstances: The service user has died and has no known relatives, the service user has left the country and cannot be contacted, the service user refuses open disclosure – may not be ready,” the note says.

The documents were sent hours after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris rounded on the HSE for the late and inadequate disclosure of information to the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal.

The controversy came to light after terminally-ill Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled a High Court action in April after her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed. The missed smear test was only discovered in 2014 after her diagnosis but she was not told until 2017.

A follow-up HSE investigation found that 209 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer were not told about subsequent audits showing past smear tests could have provided a different outcome.

‘Pathetic’

Dr Gabriel Scally, who is heading the scoping inquiry, this week declared as “unacceptable” the HSE’s last-minute handover of thousands of unsearchable documents before the publication of his first progress report. Mr Harris called the HSE’s actions “pathetic”.

The Minister contacted the HSE’s acting director general John Connaghan on Wednesday night to outline the Government’s expectation that the HSE hand over all documentation and provide it in a searchable format.

“I also spoke to Dr Scally and have reminded him that he is fully empowered by the Government and if he meets any obstacles, he needs to bring it to my attention,” he told The Irish Times.

More than 4,000 documents were sent to the investigation team between June 6th and 8th, a month after the inquiry was launched and all organisations pledged full support for Dr Scally’s work.

The issue will continue to dominate the political agenda on Thursday as the Public Accounts Committee will hear from the HSE and the State Claims Agency about inaccurate information given to the committee members. It is also set to discuss the status of the legal cases taken by women with cervical cancer.