CervicalCheck: Scally says inquiry will be comprehensive and frank

More than 4,500 women who called the helpline have yet to be called back by the HSE

 Dr Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine who will carry out a scoping enquiry into the CervicalCheck screening programme. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Dr Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine who will carry out a scoping enquiry into the CervicalCheck screening programme. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

The chair of the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy has insisted his investigation will be as comprehensive and frank as possible.

His comments come as it emerged that more than 4,500 women who have called the HSE helpline in the wake of the cervical cancer screening controversy are yet to be called back by the health authority.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday evening, Dr Gabriel Scally said his review will be completely independent of Government and the Department of Health.

He said one of the issues he intends to focus on is the issue of disclosure of information to the patients, what decisions were made and how they were implemented, Dr Scally added.

Asked if he can find fault, he added: “It may not be possible for me to attribute blame and to individuals. That is outside my remit. If I find serious problems, I will certainly be pointing to those serious problems.”

Dr Scally confirmed he had spoken to Vicky Phelan and will speak to others over the coming days.

The inquiry will examine the issues surrounding the CervicalCheck programme, highlighted first by the case of Mrs Phelan.

She settled a High Court action against a US laboratory used by CervicalCheck for €2.5 million at the end of April.

It subsequently emerged 209 women had been affected by the screening scandal, many of whom were not told of “false negative” screening results , and 17 women subsequently died.

The Cabinet agreed the terms of reference for a scoping inquiry into the issue on Tuesday and also the re-establishment of a board to oversee the HSE.

It will consider the knowledge of Mr O’Brien, the Department of Health, the HSE and Cervical Check .

The inquiry will examine the outsourcing of services to laboratories in the United States. It will also seek to establish the background to CervicalCheck’s failure to tell women what clinical audits of their screens had found and how much the HSE and Department of Health knew about this.

Dr Gabriel Scally and will report to the Minister for Health. He will also be given the permission to release new information as he uncovers it.

Dr Scally will also talk to Vicky Phelan, who was briefed on scope of inquiry by Mr Harris.

The scoping exercise will allow for other persons affected by this controversy to feed into potential terms of reference for a commission of investigation.

Helpline

The HSE said on Tuesday that 11,982 women had contacted it since the helpline was established on April 28.

It said 8,150 had sought to be called back and of these 3,649 had had calls returned.

Thus left about 4,500 still to be contacted.

In an update on Tuesday the HSE said: “Calls are being returned to women following a careful exercise of checking records, checking data quality and assigning calls to health professionals.

“The call backs take a period of time as in those cases where the person has a history of referral for colposcopy treatment or a history of cancer, we are providing a clinical consultation with a clinical staff member with expertise in colposcopy or cancer treatment. To date, 3,649 calls have been returned to women. Calls were throughout the past weekend and will continue through this week, with support with staff from health facilities around the country.”

Tony O’Brien

Pressure is growing on Tony O’Brien to resign as HSE director general over the cervical cancer scandal after three Government Ministers told a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday they believed he should step down.

The three are Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath. 

Minister for Health Simon Harris, meanwhile, has publicly declined to express confidence in the director general of the Health Service Executive when asked on several occasions if Mr O’Brien had his support.

However, Mr Harris said his position was clear and that was that Mr O’Brien had only a number of weeks left in office.

A recruitment process for his replacement would begin next week, he added.

The Minister declined to comment on reports that Cabinet heard calls for Mr O’Brien to stand aside.

He stated politicians were angry and disappointed after the last fortnight and the misinformation issued and withholding of facts.

Mr Harris said: “I believe there is a benefit in him remaining in post to help during those weeks and I know the overriding determination of myself and all my Cabinet colleagues is to get answers.”

Earlier, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the director general Mr O’Brien should “absolutely” should stay in his position and work “day in, day out” to get accountability and the facts around the cervical cancer screening scandal.

Mr O’Brien has been head of numerous sections within the health service, she said, “so he knows the system inside out. It’s far from letting him off, we should be”.