Inquiry into CervicalCheck scandal to report by June

‘Scoping exercise’ before Government decides on commission of investigation

The director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien appears before the Oireachtas Health committee over the CervicalCheck controversy.

 

The Government will establish a non-statutory inquiry to provide immediate answers to the CervicalCheck controversy before deciding if a commission of investigation is required.

Minister for Health Simon Harris met Opposition spokespersons on health yesterday to discuss the shape and the scope of an inquiry into the delayed diagnosis issue.

It was agreed a person from outside the State would be appointed to conduct a “scoping exercise” to answer the immediate questions including how many women are affected, how many should been informed of a delay in their diagnosis and the level of knowledge within the health service of the extent of the issue.

The individual will be asked to examine if a commission of inquiry is warranted and to decide the possible terms of reference for such an inquiry.

The results of two clinical reviews into the cases of each woman involved will feed into the review.

The Minister and Opposition TDs agreed answers should be provided as soon as possible for the women involved and to assess if these can be found without the establishment of an inquiry.

Government figures say they are not ruling out setting up a formal investigation but will be guided by the work of this person, which is expected to be completed by June.

The Minister will require the support of his Cabinet colleagues and is expected to discuss a firm proposal at next week’s meeting.

Accountability

The issue dominated the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night where members demanded accountability from the Health Service Executive.

Mr Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are understood to have expressed their frustration with the manner in which cancer patients have been treated by the health service.

Mr Varadkar said the women involved would be entitled to redress from the State, while the Minister for Health told the meeting he felt “let down” by people in positions of power within the HSE.

Speaking before an Oireachtas committee yesterday, HSE director-general Tony O’Brien said he would not stand down from his role over the CervicalCheck controversy.

While recognising his organisation had made mistakes, he said he didn’t personally “cock up” so he would not take responsibility for it.

Mr O’Brien said he would devote his remaining period in office to addressing failings in the cervical screening programme. He is scheduled to leave the HSE in the summer.

Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty accused Mr O’Brien of “moving the goalposts” on the issue but said letting him resign “would be too easy”.

However, Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said the HSE boss should consider his position “considering his involvement in setting up the screening programme and that he is top of the organisational structure of the HSE and that should stand for something”.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach defended the decision of Mr Harris to allow Mr O’Brien join the board of US contraceptive manufacturer Evofem Biosciences.

Mr O’Brien’s work for the company totals five hours a month and is being done on his own time, Mr Varadkar said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was “very taken aback” Mr Varadkar did not consider Mr O’Brien’s new role when a “clear conflict of interest is staring the Taoiseach in the face”.

It was “simply not reconcilable” that an individual can be the director-general of the HSE and also serve on the board of Evofem whose chairman, Irish businessman Thomas Lynch, is also the chair of the Mater hospital which will be “putting forward projects which the Mater hospital will want.”

Mr Varadkar confirmed, in response to questions from Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall, that Mr Lynch had hosted a fundraising event for him last year.