CervicalCheck: Taoiseach hopes ‘pain’ of controversy improves health service

Fianna Fáil says public confidence in cancer screening system ‘has been shaken’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he hopes ‘all of the pain’ experienced in the CervicalCheck controversy  leads to a new culture in the health service. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he hopes ‘all of the pain’ experienced in the CervicalCheck controversy leads to a new culture in the health service. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

A new culture in the health service and improvements to screening programmes, as well as the extension of HPV vaccines, should be seen as “good things” to come from the CervicalCheck controversy, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said “all of the pain” experienced should lead to a new “culture in our health service of open disclosure, of grace, of candour and compassion”.

He was reacting to the publication of the Scally Report into the CervicalCheck controversy and said the Government’s position that a further commission of investigation should be held has “not yet been changed”. Dr Gabriel Scally’s report said such a further inquiry is not needed.

However, Mr Varadkar said he did want to comment further on other potential inquiries, and added the Government accepts all of Dr Scally’s recommendations.

“When I think about the whole CervicalCheck controversy, really since May now, I think of a lot of people who are involved in this,” he said. “I think about the women who are most affected by it and their families, a number of them said to me they would like something good to come of the CervicalCheck controversy and all of the pain that arose as a result.

“And I think two good things can come from it. The first is that we aim to make cervical cancer in Ireland a rare disease and that can be done by improving our screening programme and extending HPV vaccines to boys and girls. The second is to really embed a culture in our health service of open disclosure, of grace, of candour and compassion.

‘Salvaged’

“I think if we can do those two things we will at least have to salvaged some good out of this controversy and done something to assuage the pain and suffering that so many people have endured.”

On the issue of another inquiry, Mr Varadkar said the decision on whether to opt for a commission of investigation is for the Oireachtas as a whole and not just the Government.

“I really need to hear, and the Government really needs to hear, from the women affected and their families, the patient reps, as to what their wishes are, and we also need to consult with the Opposition because ultimately this is a decision for the Oireachtas and not the government.”

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said “public confidence in the Cervical Check system has been shaken”.

“There’s no two ways about it,” he added. “Dr Scally’s suggestions on how to restore that trust are essential.

“The trust that thousands of women placed in the system has been breached. Moving to mandatory disclosure is now essential. Patients cannot be left in the dark ever again.”

‘Culture shift’

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said the report “demonstrates quite clearly that a culture shift in required in the Irish health industry”.

“There is no accountability and the buck seems to stop nowhere,” she said. “A full inquiry is needed to uncover the flaws that led to such a level of systemic failure. We need to know this so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Labour’ s Alan Kelly welcomed Dr Scally’s recommendations , which he said “will help reinforce confidence in the screening programme”. However, the Tipperary TD said he is “firmly of the view that a short term inquiry with powers to compel witnesses is still needed”.