Simon Harris insists he was not warned offering more smear tests a mistake

Former head of CervicalCheck says she raised concerns with senior HSE officials

Minister for Health Simon Harris said Dr Gráinne Flannelly had never said that she had given any warning to him about the initiative.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said Dr Gráinne Flannelly had never said that she had given any warning to him about the initiative.

 

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted the former head of the CervicalCheck programme did not warn him about offering women free out-of-cycle smear tests before he announced the initiative last year.

Dr Gráinne Flannelly has said she raised concerns with senior officials in the HSE in the hours before the decision was made.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Mr Harris said there were concerns raised after the announcement was made.

He said he had made the decision to roll out the free repeat smear tests, at the height of the cervical cancer controversy last year, in line with the advice of his chief medical officer and department officials.

He said he believed that this was the correct advice given the exceptional circumstances of the time, which he said was very worrying and frightening for women.

Former Cervical Check clinical director Gráinne Flannelly told the Oireachtas Health committee in a statement on Wednesday that she had warned senior officials in the HSE not to offer free out-of-cycle repeat smears to women because it would “fundamentally undermine the screening programme”.

She said she passed on a number of serious concerns to a senior official in the HSE who then spoke to an unnamed official in the Department of Health. The decision was made to proceed “in any case” shortly after.

Mr Harris said on Wednesday that the former HSE director general and the secretary general of the Department of Health had previously given evidence to the Health committee that he had never received any contrary advice about the provision of free repeat smear tests.

“It is clear that after decision was made, some in the CervicalCheck programme did express some concerns about the operationalising of it,” Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris said Dr Flannelly had never said that she had given any warning to him about the initiative.

The Minister said there was “ a lot of revisionism going on” in the media and on the part of some politicians.

“Let us remember the time. We had lost all confidence in management of Cervical Check, I had lost confidence, the Opposition had, certainly the women of Ireland had. We had sent in new management.”

Mr Harris said it was bizarre to suggest that women had gone for repeat smear tests at the time because of any decision he had made.

He said women were going to their doctors to seek repeat smear tests to provide reassurance.

“The question was whether we as a State were going to pay for it or expect the women to pay for it. That would not have been an equitable situation.”