Harris to come under pressure over briefing note on Phelan case

Note suggests women not automatically being told of smear test review results

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that he is "full of sorrow" and "very angry on behalf of the 160 or so women who were not told of the results of the audit" when answering questions on the cervical cancer scandal in the Dáil. Video: Oireachtas TV


The Minster for Health Simon Harris will come under pressure in the Dáil today over a briefing document he received just prior to the court case involving Vicky Phelan which indicated that women were not automatically being given the results of cervical smear reviews.

The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that the briefing document advised the Minister that Ms Phelan was suing the HSE over non-disclosure of a cervical smear audit result.

The memo said that the case against the HSE was likely to be dropped but that Ms Phelan was also taking action against a US laboratory.

In an appendix to the briefing document, officials in the Department of Health advised Mr Harris that all current and historical clinical cancer audits had been communicated to treating clinicians in 2016.

However it said that “more recently women had been informed of the audit process and options to request information”.

The briefing document which was given to Mr Harris on April 16th said that the Department of Health had been advised by the National Cancer Control Programme that the issues involved did not represent a patient safety issue.

The Government is to publish the briefing document given to Mr Harris in advance of the legal case taken by Vicky Phelan, with her permission. It is understood that if Ms Phelan gives the go-ahead, the document would be published in a redacted form as it contains details of her medical condition.

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said Mr Harris needed to clarify who wrote the briefing note for him and whether that person was aware of the broader context and the potential implications of the case at the time.

Ms Phelan is the mother of two from Co Limerick who was given incorrect cancer test results in 2011 and is now terminally ill. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 but told of the false negative in the earlier smear test only in September 2017.

Mr Harris was told in the briefing note about the background to Ms Phelan’s legal action.

It said that mediation discussions and pre-trial discussions had been held. It said the matter could progress to the High Court but could be settled.