Friday 22 February 2019

4,200 women still waiting for cancer scandal helpline to call back

HSE chief Tony O’Brien
HSE chief Tony O’Brien

More than 4,200 women who phoned the CervicalCheck helpline are still waiting for a callback, it has been revealed.

The HSE yesterday defended the slow response, saying it did not want the callback to be a cosmetic exercise.

The helpline continues to be busy, with 320 calls yesterday.

Meanwhile, eight women or their next of kin who were the subject of internal CervicalCheck reports after developing cervical cancer are still unaware of the review.

As of yesterday, 201 of the 209 cases, including the next of kin of women who had died after getting an incorrect smear result, had been contacted.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday, Dean Sullivan, of the HSE, said: "I understand it has not been possible to contact the remaining eight people and their families to date, as some women are not in the country, because they are travelling or living abroad, or are uncontactable.

"All 201 women or their families have been offered a meeting at the earliest opportunity with their doctor at a time that is suitable and convenient to them."

HSE chief Tony O'Brien yesterday refused to resign, instead warning politicians they needed to come up with a plan for the HSE because it was an "exercise in how not to do change management". He told TDs that he would "respectfully decline your invitation to resign without prejudice or otherwise".

Instead, he said he would take holidays in early July after the report of a scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal is published - and not return.


Addressing the committee, Mr O'Brien indicated he did not expect huge interest in the job.

After seven years at the helm, he said there were "some doubts" about the standard of competition. Fianna Fail's Stephen Donnelly put it to him that he should resign over the scandal "without prejudice".

"I take no joy in the call and I'm very conscious that you've given many years of public service to healthcare," he said.

However, Mr O'Brien hit back, describing the director general as the "one person who has to be personally accountable for every failure or mistake of 140,000 individuals who work in the health service".

Mr O'Brien said there were "many good things" happening in the HSE but its establishment was "an exercise in how not to do change management".

He admitted that there were "significant issues" but said that he was not informed of the impending scandal before it broke in the media.

He said he was not happy with the way the scandal had developed "for multiple reasons".

Mr O'Brien said that if he had been aware of Vicky Phelan's case "in all of its magnitude, it would have been possible to put in place a number of steps to ensure the organisation was in a better place to deal with the fallout".

Asked whether people in the HSE were afraid to raise concerns, Mr O'Brien said he had a sign in his office that read: "Speak truth to power." Health Minister Simon Harris told the meeting that there was a "long road to travel to restore public confidence". He promised major change in the way the health service operates, saying: "The HSE has become too big to fail and too big to succeed."

When questioned on Mr O'Brien's future, the minister said it was his "judgment" that creating a vacuum in the HSE would not help the situation.

Mr O'Brien will today return to Leinster House for the third time in a week, to face more questions at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

PAC chairman Sean Fleming last night said the committee wanted to quiz the HSE chief on expenditure incurred on various cancer screening services, including the cost of outsourcing.

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