Wednesday 20 February 2019

'Bombshell' as another 1,500 may be dragged into scandal

Louise O’Reilly says Tony Brien’s position is untenable
Louise O’Reilly says Tony Brien’s position is untenable

As many as 1,500 more women could be dragged into the cervical cancer scandal, the Dail has heard.

In what has been described as a "bombshell", Health Minister Simon Harris revealed that a "potentially considerable number of cases" in which women developed cancer were not subjected to a routine audit.

It was believed that all existing smear tests were re-examined as a matter of practice if a woman was later diagnosed with cervical cancer.

However, the Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT), which has been sent into CervicalCheck since Vicky Phelan settled her case, has discovered that not all cases were examined.

Mr Harris said he did not have "specific figures" but agreed with Fianna Fail's Stephen Donnelly that it could be in the region of 1,500.

Records from CervicalCheck show that 1,482 cases were reviewed since 2008 - but there were actually 3,000 cases of cervical cancer over the past 10 years.


Of the 1,482 cases, some 208 were shown to have "false negatives'".

The Labour Party's health spokesman Alan Kelly described the revelations as a "bombshell".

"We need to deal with the bombshell you are just having dropping in here today," he said.

"What is the number of cases that have now not been audited? This is a bombshell. What volume of women have not had their cases audited?"

Meanwhile, the Dail has heard calls for HSE boss Tony O'Brien to resign or be sacked.

Political pressure increased on the outgoing director general of the health service yesterday, but sources indicated that ministers will continue to express confidence in him.

Mr O'Brien, who was head of the National Cancer Screening Programme when smear test analysis was outsourced to the United States in 2008, has said he never considered stepping down despite the cervical cancer controversy.

But Sinn Fein's health spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly argued his position is untenable in the wake of Vicky Phelan's High Court settlement for €2.5m.

"Surely the nature of the case and the cost involved would have sent alarm bells through the HSE, the Department of Health and up to the level of Government," Ms O'Reilly said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said calling for Mr O'Brien to be sacked because he was linked to the outsourcing of tests was not reasonable.

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