Government urged to publish advice leading to U-turn on open disclosure

‘It is very important that the Government does not attempt to muzzle a key Oireachtas committee’, Dáil told

 Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty: said there were profound and serious questions in relation to the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty: said there were profound and serious questions in relation to the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Government has been urged to publish the advice to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he was minister for health that convinced him to “do a U-turn” on mandatory open disclosure.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty told the Dáil Mr Varadkar changed his mind on mandatory open disclosure two years ago following advice from the State’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

“It is important to know the nature of the advice given to the minister,” the Donegal TD said, adding that it was also important to know if that advice was “informed by knowledge of the cervical cancer scandal or any other medical scandal”.

“How and why did he not inform the minister of the issue at the time?” Mr Doherty asked. “It is his duty to inform the minister. This raised profound and serious questions in relation to the Department of Health.”

And he called for the cervical cancer audit and documents in relation to the US laboratories used by CervicalCheck to report on smear tests to be published immediately.

No attempt to withhold information

He was speaking during leaders’ questions on the ongoing cervical cancer screening controversy.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton re-iterated that neither the Taoiseach nor the Minister for Health had been informed about the fact women were not informed about the results of a look-back at smear test results which were found to have contained abnormalities. He insisted there was no attempt to withhold information and it would be provided.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pointed out that the documentation released on Tuesday of this week and last week to the Public Accounts Committee on the controversy showed that “the policy of open disclosure is very much a live issue throughout 2016”.

In 2016, Mr Varadkar as minister for health changed his view that legislation should require mandatory open disclosure and instead introduced voluntary disclosure as part of efforts to build a culture of disclosure.

Mr Martin asked if there was “any link between what was going on between all senior officials who were saying that we need an exemption here on open disclosure” and the blocking of mandatory disclosure to patients.

“The Taoiseach makes a statement that the Public Accounts Committee shouldn’t be involved” in the investigation into the controversy and other Ministers had followed his lead. Yet it was that committee that had succeeded in getting important audit information made public, Mr Martin said.

“There appears to be an agenda to push the Public Accounts Committee to one side but we got a commitment that any inquiry would not be used to bury documentation,” he said. “It is very important that the Government does not attempt to muzzle a key Oireachtas committee”.

Mr Bruton insisted there was no attempt to sideline any Oireachtas committee and it was a matter for them how they conducted their work.

The Government was moving in the Patient Safety Bill to mandatory open disclosure in patient safety incidents and it would be legally binding, he said.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall estimated that 45 of the additional 1,631 women excluded from the screening audit who developed cancer had not been responded to by Government.

Mr Bruton said the women did not come through the CervicalCheck process and that 987 had been identified and their cases analysed and excluded in a time consuming procedure. A “process will be put in place to identify and work with the remaining women involved” and the audit of their cases would be conducted through the international clinical team appointed by the Government.