Taoiseach urges caution on no-fault compensation scheme suggested by Dr Scally

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin clash over CervicalCheck report in the Dáil

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  said the revelations that some of the laboratories testing cervical smears outsourced slides to other labs was serious and unacceptable. File image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the revelations that some of the laboratories testing cervical smears outsourced slides to other labs was serious and unacceptable. File image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that a no-fault compensation scheme for patients harmed by public health programmes would offer quite modest awards and nobody would be blamed or held to account.

Dr Gabriel Scally, the doctor investigating the CervicalCheck controversy, has recommended a no-fault compensation scheme where patients were harmed by programmes such as screening and vaccinations.

Mr Varadkar told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that while “moving towards a no-fault compensation scheme is a very good idea it requires full consideration”.

He was responding during Dáil leaders’ questions in the wake of the publication of the second report of the investigation into the CervicalCheck screening programme controversy.

Mr Varadkar also said the revelations that some of the laboratories testing cervical smears “outsourced slides to other labs is serious. It is unacceptable. It wasn’t approved and it may well have been a breach of contract.

“It shouldn’t have happened and it should have been picked up by CervicalCheck’s own quality assurance and management scheme and clearly it was not.”

He said it was, however, reassuring that the laboratories were accredited, albeit one of them retrospectively.

Mr Martin said there was no question that women “have been forced into traumatic legal action”.

He said the Government had failed to deliver on promises made a year ago to the women affected by the controversy.

Mr Martin noted Dr Scally’s comments that the current legal system “converts serious error into injustice” and then injustice into compensation.

The Taoiseach paid tribute to Dr Scally and his team for the two reports and said Minister for Health Simon Harris hoped to publish related legislation in the next fortnight and that a tribunal of inquiry into the issue could be established later this year.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped the Oireachtas committee on health would forego pre-legislative scrutiny to ensure the legislation would be passed in the Dáil and Seanad by the summer recess.

In sharp exchanges, the Fianna Fáil leader asked about progress on various promises made in the past year and accused the Taoiseach of failing to answer his questions and of trying to throw responsibility on the Opposition.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Martin was being “a little oversensitive” and said he was not blaming the Opposition for anything. Supports were in place for the women affected by the CervicalCheck failures, including medical cards, experimental drug treatments and more than €1 million in payments, he said.

The Taoiseach said that a working group led by a senior judge was examining the issue of a no-fault compensation scheme which could help in complex and distressing medical cases.

He said the scheme could apply not just to screening errors but to vaccine errors and cerebral palsy.

“One thing that needs to be considered about no-fault schemes . . . the awards are quite modest and nobody is held to blame and nobody is held to account.”