Outsourcing not at heart of CervicalCheck controversy – Harris

Minister pledges full implementation plan for Scally recommendations within 3 months

Minister for Health Simon Harris has rejected claims by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith that outsourcing was the central issue of the CervicalCheck controversy.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has rejected claims by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith that outsourcing was the central issue of the CervicalCheck controversy. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The outsourcing of smear tests “is not at the heart” of the CervicalCheck cancer screening controversy, Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted.

As the Government came under pressure to establish a commission of inquiry into the controversy, Mr Harris said the non-disclosure of personal information to patients was at the heart of the matter.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on a report by public health veteran Dr Gabriel Scally into the controversy, Mr Harris rejected claims by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith that outsourcing was the central issue.

The Minister said “to say that allows it to hang out there that women should have doubt”.

He added that “we can’t have our own facts”.

Dr Scally, who conducted a scoping inquiry into the controversy over the non-disclosure to women diagnosed with cancer of the results of a subsequent audit of their original smear tests, had concluded the labs were safe. This was after he visited the labs and interviewed those involved as well as four doctors, a senior counsel and a barrister, the Minister said.

No answer

However, Ms Smith reiterated that she had yet to receive an answer to the question she had repeatedly asked about which laboratories conducted the tests in the cases of the 206 women diagnosed with cervical cancer, an answer she believed could be easily supplied.

She said there were different standards between the US and Ireland, and she criticised the destruction of documents linked to the tender between the State and the laboratories.

Mr Harris said he would meet patients affected by the controversy and their families next week and he would then meet opposition parties to determine the best way forward. He said he was working to having a plan ready within three months for the full implementation of the 50 recommendations in the report, all of which the Government accepts.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said that whatever the women involved and their families want to do “then let’s do that, whether or not we think it is the right method.

“Let us for once do just what they want and put them at the centre of this.”

His party colleague, Fiona O’Loughlin, said the report made her “furious about how those women had been treated and kept in the dark by a paternalistic and misogynistic health system”.

A number of TDs called for a commission of investigation into the matter, something Dr Scally said he did not think was necessary.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said that while Dr Scally had done a good job, “many more questions remain. If we need a commission of investigation to get to the bottom of them, we should have one.

“Women are still being dragged through the courts and let down,” she said. “All of the things we said could not and should not happen are still happening. This has to stop. The only way to stop it is with accountability.”