‘Degree of misogyny’ in some areas of health sector, says Taoiseach

Varadkar says attitude of medical staff ‘knowing best’ goes beyond CervicalCheck

Dr Gabriel Scally has published a 200-page report into the CervicalCheck scandal. The report says the current policy and practice in relation to open disclosure in the health service was “deeply contradictory and unsatisfactory”. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the CervicalCheck controversy has made him “embarrassed” for his own medical profession.

However, he added that he does not want his criticisms to be “misconstrued” as a blanket condemnation of all of those who work in the health sector. There is often a culture in the health service, he said, that the health professional knows best.

The Taoiseach made the comments while giving further reaction to the publication of the Scally report into the CervicalCheck controversy in Dublin on Thursday.

Dr Gabriel Scally’s report concludes that “a whole-system failure” meant women who had been diagnosed with cancer were not told about subsequent audits which showed their past smear tests were incorrect.

Dr Scally said the disclosure of the findings of the audits to the women concerned was handled badly and was responsible for much hurt and anger.

“There is an attitude and a culture in our health service, and it goes well beyond CervicalCheck, that the doctor or nurse or midwife or manager or therapist knows best,” the Taoiseach said.

He added there is “certainly a degree of misogyny” in some areas of the health sector.

Commission of investigation

Political sources said that a commission of investigation into the controversy was much less likely now in the wake of Dr Scally’s report. Dr Scally had said he had reached the view that a commission of investigation would not be the best way to proceed, though it has been previously promised by the Government.

Dr Scally said: “There is a danger that a prolonged investigation, whilst it might further elucidate the matters that I have considered and correct any inexactitudes in this report, would consume valuable energy and resources that would be better devoted to the implementation of recommendations and achieving progress.”

Government sources said a commission of investigation was increasingly unlikely, though they stressed they would be influenced largely by the wishes of the women and families impacted by the controversy.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources also said that a commission was probably unnecessary.

However, Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said her party was “very much inclined to support a commission of inquiry”.

She said Sinn Féin would be guided by the women affected but also said significant questions remained about the controversy.

“There was very obvious limitations on Scally,” Ms O’Reilly said. “He couldn’t make findings against individuals, for instance. But somebody is responsible for this.” “If there is going to be any real learning from this, there has to be individual accountability,” she said.

Ms O’Reilly also said that the question of outsourcing to US laboratories should be further examined.

The Scally report is likely to be debated by the Dáil when it resumes after the summer break next Tuesday. In addition, Dr Scally is likely to appear at the Oireachtas Health Committee.

Accountability process

The Health Service Executive meanwhile has said it is committed to a process of accountability for any of its staff who may have a case to answer on foot of the cervical cancer controversy and the Scally report.

In a statement on Thursday, the HSE said it would engage with the Department of Health “to examine how best to progress a process of accountability in the context of a proposed commission of investigation (COI) or any alternative to a COI”.

Last May, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that open disclosure had been policy for all HSE staff since 2013. He said staff could be disciplined for not following open disclosure.

In its statement, the HSE said: “Following the publication of the Scally report, the HSE remains committed to a process of accountability for any HSE staff member who may have a case to answer under the HSE’s policies and procedures.”

“The directorate of the HSE is currently considering the Scally report, its recommendations, how best to implement all of the 50 recommendations and other necessary actions.”