Taoiseach denies U-turn on mandatory open disclosure for doctors

Varadkar defends late removal of compulsory reporting policy in last year’s legislation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied that he and the Government performed a U-turn on whether to introduce mandatory open disclosure in the health service. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied that he and the Government performed a U-turn on whether to introduce mandatory open disclosure in the health service. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied that he and the Government performed a U-turn on whether to introduce mandatory open disclosure in the health service.

Last year, a provision allowing for mandatory open disclosure was in a Bill passed by the Seanad, but it was changed when it came back into the Dáil by the Government, supported by Fianna Fáil.

An amendment allowing for voluntary open disclosure was inserted into the Bill instead.

Dr Gabriel Scally’s report for the Government into the controversy around the non-disclosure of smear test audit results to women with cervical cancer tested by the CervicalCheck screening programme criticised the policy and practice of open disclosure.

He described the policy and practice as “deeply contradictory and unsatisfactory.”

The Northern Irish public health expert said there was “no compelling requirement” on doctors to disclose and that it was left up to their personal and professional judgment.

Mr Varadkar said the Government would introduce mandatory open disclosure – one of 50 recommendations made by Dr Scally – that would compel doctors by law to admit any mistakes to their patients.

Voluntary basis

“I explained that before,” the Taoiseach said on Friday of the events last year. “It wasn’t a U-turn. We made a particular set of decisions that we would ensure that it was policy first and it has been policy for a very long time.

“Secondly, that we would legislate to protect open disclosure on a voluntary basis and that we would then legislate after that for mandatory open disclosure. That is what we are going to do. That’s what is in my party’s manifesto back in 2016, long before the CervicalCheck scandal broke and was also in the programme for government.”

Dr Scally is continuing his investigation in one of the foreign labs used by CervicalCheck to examine Irish smear tests.

‘Adequate’ processes

Clinical Pathology Laboratories, the US laboratory that Dr Scally found outsourced Irish smear tests to five other US labs without the HSE’s knowledge, examined the smears of Lorraine Walsh and Irene Teap, the late wife of Stephen Teap.

CPL, which was used by CervicalCheck from 2010 to 2013, was also the lab that settled the High Court action taken by Limerick women Vicky Phelan over a misinterpreted 2011 smear test.

Ms Walsh, Mr Teap and Ms Phelan are the patient representatives who engaged with Dr Scally on behalf of the 221 women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy.

About 300,000 smear test slides were reported by CPL to CervicalCheck.

Dr Scally has said he is satisfied that the quality management processes were “adequate” in CPL.