Simon Harris says screening programme audit ‘utterly botched’

Scally report ‘finds huge failings’ in CervicalCheck programme

Dr Gabriel Scally has published a 200-page report into the CervicalCheck scandal. The report says the current policy and practice in relation to open disclosure in the health service was “deeply contradictory and unsatisfactory”. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Minister for Health Simon Harris has said the Scally report showed there were “huge failings” that needed to be addressed in the cervical cancer screening programme but insisted the programme was safe.

Mr Harris said the report into CervicalCheck found a “system-wide failing” and that the audit of the programme was “clearly utterly botched” in how the information produced by the audit was handled.

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings before the unveiling of the report, Mr Harris particularly welcomed the findings that the laboratories being used for the screening programme “meet quality management processes” and that there was “no reason that they cannot continue to be used”.

“I have been asked the question - is it safe to use the labs? . . . Today Dr Scally answers the question clearly. And that message cannot get lost,” he said.

The Minister said it wasn’t “about cancer misdiagnosis - he does find that the labs were safe to use”, but he acknowledged the additional pain and suffering caused to women and their families by the non-disclosure of the results of the audits.

However, Mr Harris said the “widespread non-disclosure of the results of screening audits was a substantial breach of trust for the women and families involved”.

The Minister said he would bring forward proposals next month for an independent patient safety council, adding there would be two patient representatives on the new board of the HSE.

He said the Government would legislate for a new duty of candour requiring mandatory disclosure of “serious reportable events” and said the new laws would impose an individual duty of disclosure on healthcare professionals, not just on the hospital they work in.

Mr Harris said the Government would recruit new leadership for the screening programme.

He said the report found blame could not be ascribed to individuals. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say this person did it or that person did it, and when individuals fail, individuals should be held to account. But sometimes the truth is more complex,” Mr Harris said.

“Sometimes the truth is that people who set out in the words of Dr Scally to do something laudable had systems and structures in place that [make] an absolutely botched job of it, that caused pain and hurt and suffering that I’m sure was not intended,” he said.