Government split on issue of seeking Tony O’Brien’s resignation

Three Ministers call for HSE head to step down in relation to accountability for errors

Dr Gabriel Scally will lead the inquiry into delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer. “If I find serious problems, I will certainly be pointing to those serious problems,” he says.  Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Dr Gabriel Scally will lead the inquiry into delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer. “If I find serious problems, I will certainly be pointing to those serious problems,” he says. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Government is divided over the future of the director general of the Health Service Executive, Tony O’Brien.

Three Cabinet Ministers – Katherine Zappone, Finian McGrath and Michael Ring – called for Mr O’Brien to stand aside from his role at Tuesday’s meeting.

It is understood Mr Ring said officials in the HSE needed to be held accountable for the errors that have unfolded over recent days, while Ms Zappone told the meeting she believed it was appropriate on balance for Mr O’Brien to stand aside.

The Independent Alliance also had a pre-Cabinet meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar seeking clarity on the position of Mr O’Brien. It is understood the Taoiseach advised the political grouping Mr O’Brien’s contract allowed for three months’ notice and said the director general could take a case of constructive dismissal if forced out of his role.

Speaking publicly, Minister for Health Simon Harris declined to express confidence in Mr O’Brien and expressed his fury at the misinformation given to the Government in recent weeks on this controversy.

These comments are understood to have caused anger within the HSE.

Remaining in post

Asked if he supported Mr O’Brien remaining in office, Mr Harris told reporters: “I’ve made my position very clear in relation to Tony O’Brien. He has eight or so weeks left to serve in his post.

“I expect him to do everything he can to assist in that time. I’ve been consistent in my view.”

The Minister was speaking as the Government confirmed the terms of reference for a scoping inquiry into the delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer to a number of women.

The review will examine the widespread non-disclosure to patients relating to the CervicalCheck audits, how facts were shared, escalated, reported and communicated through the organisation, the HSE and the Department of Health.

It will assess why the policy of open disclosure was not implemented by CervicalCheck, look at the decision to outsource the laboratory results and assess if there are issues regarding other screening services including BreastCheck and bowel screening.

The chair of the inquiry, Dr Gabriel Scally, said his inquiry would be completely independent of Government and the Department of Health, insisting he would be comprehensive and frank in his deliberations.

Where he finds failures, Dr Scally insists he will make those known to the public but confirmed he may not be in a position to attribute blame to individuals.

Attribution of blame

“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,” he told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

Dr Scally will submit an interim report to Mr Harris at the beginning of June and will have his work completed by the end of the month.

The 63 year old was born in Belfast and is currently based in Bristol. He is the president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He previously served on the Eastern Health and Social Services Board in Northern Ireland and as regional director of public health in England.

During his tenure in the NHS and the Department of Health, he dealt with several high-profile clinical service failures including breast screening in Exeter and pathology in Swindon, and led the NHS review of the commissioning of care and treatment for patients at Winterbourne View where patients were seriously abused. In 2012, Dr Scally resigned from England’s department of health due to his opposition to the then coalition government’s health policies.

Meanwhile, Mr O’Brien last night told TDs he would attend a meeting of the Oireachtas health committee today. He had initially said he would not be able to attend as he was due to go on annual leave.

Sinn Féin will next week table a motion of no confidence in Mr O’Brien in the Dáil.