State bodies accused of obstructing CervicalCheck inquiry

Department and HSE under fire for late handover and format of documents

Dr Gabriel Scally: his inquiry will not be able to meet its deadline of a final report by the end of June. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Gabriel Scally: his inquiry will not be able to meet its deadline of a final report by the end of June. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

State organisations have been strongly criticised for delays in provide documentation to an independent inquiry examining the CervicalCheck controversy despite promises to fully co-operate with the investigation.

Chairman of the scoping inquiry Dr Gabriel Scally confirmed he made requests to the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, CervicalCheck and the State Claims Agency as part of his examination into the withholding of information from women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

However, the documentation was not received until last week, despite the investigation being launched at the beginning of May and all organisations pledging their full support to Dr Scally’s work.

More than 4,000 pieces of correspondence were sent between June 6th and 8th, with more expected over the coming weeks. A significant proportion of the documentation is provided in nonsearchable format and in some cases is difficult to read, Dr Scally said.

“It is disappointing and unclear why documents that would originally have been prepared in electronic format (including some very recent documents) are not available to the inquiry in that format, rather than as a scanned version of the printed copy.”

Another substantial body of documentation is expected within the coming days, Dr Scally added, and each will need to be reviewed, its relevance to the terms of reference established and its content noted and analysed.

Missed deadline

The delay in sending the documentation was criticised by a number of politicians, who alleged it was an attempt to frustrate the work of the inquiry.

It has also contributed to the Scally inquiry’s failure to meet its deadline of a final report by the end of June. It is now not expected to conclude its work until the end of the summer.

Burying people in documentation, whether it is relevant or not, seems to be the HSE’s first priority when they are in protective mode, which is completely unacceptable

The delays come at a time when lawyers representing some of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer who claim they were never told about earlier false negative smear test results, say they too are encountering delays in obtaining medical records.

Cork man Stephen Teap, who discovered last month that his late wife Irene’s audit showed two incorrect smear tests, said he was “extremely disappointed” the inquiry was being subjected to a “drip-feed of information and paper-bombing at the very last minute.”

“Burying people in documentation, whether it is relevant or not, seems to be the HSE’s first priority when they are in protective mode, which is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Obstruction

Cian O’Carroll, Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s solicitor, described the manner in which the HSE handed over records to the Scally inquiry as “clearly an act of obstruction”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris urged all organisations to assist Dr Scally with the information he requires and insisted he had made that absolutely clear when he met the chair of the inquiry in recent days.

The inquiry, established following the revelation that an audit of smear tests on 209 women diagnosed with cervical cancer could have enabled earlier medical intervention, also recommended each woman affected receive a €2,000 ex-gratia payment, but it is not clear how this will be made available.

A HSE spokeswoman said senior managers would meet Dr Scally’s team as soon as possible to address his concerns around how thousands of documents were handed over to him and “alleviate the issues raised”.

She said that during the initial document discovery phase, given the short timescales involved, there was a focus at the HSE in “trying to ensure documents were issued as quickly as possible”.

“This may have contributed to an increase in the number of documents being scanned and provided in a different manner than was ultimately required,” she said.