Coveney insists no attempt to hide information on CervicalCheck
Opposition say resources were not put in place to deal with increased demand for smear tests
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: “This is about full transparency and it is about correcting a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.” File photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted the Government is not hiding problems in the cervical cancer screening programme controversy.
He said details about the number of women who might require another smear test were not given to Minister for Health Simon Harris when he was informed there was an issue with one of the laboratories involved in testing.
Mr Coveney said Mr Harris was currently on paternity leave and would not attend the Dáil next week, but would be available to address the House the following week and to answer questions.
“When the Minister was informed that there was an issue he was not given the details about the numbers or who those patients were, and therefore couldn’t share it,” Mr Coveney said.
“But the issue was discussed with the CervicalCheck steering committee and the Minister for a detailed report so that he would be fully informed.”
Opposition TDs complained Taoiseach Leo Varadkar could not tell the Dáil on Wednesday how many women were affected, but the HSE was able to provide details hours later that 6,000 women would be written to and asked to attend for re-testing.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary, Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty and Labour leader Brendan Howlin also questioned Mr Coveney about when the Minister had been informed that there was a problem, after it emerged that the offer of free retesting had put huge pressure on the system.
Mr Calleary said the Government had not put the resources in place to deal with demand and this had undermined CervicalCheck, which had saved many lives.
He said the information only came out after his party leader Micheál Martin raised the issue in the Dáil. GPs, who were first responders, heard that 6,000 women would need retests for the first time on RTÉ.
Insisting that there was no attempt to hide information, Mr Coveney said there was an issue with capacity not resources.
A new issue, separate from the retesting delay, had emerged with one laboratory, Quest, which had informed CervicalCheck about a problem with HPV testing because the checks happened outside the recommended timeframe, but they were still reliable.
Mr Coveney said Mr Calleary was implying that the Government was trying to hide something and that “isn’t true”.
Mr Doherty said the health system was chaotic and issues such as this one rocked confidence in the CervicalCheck system. He asked when in December the Minister was informed about the issue.
Mr Coveney said the test for HPV to check for low-grade changes should be carried out within 30 days of a sample being given by a woman.
He said: “This is about full transparency and it is about correcting a mistake that shouldn’t have happened”.
He said they wanted to reassure women and not add to uncertainty and fears.