Friday 22 February 2019

Leo defends 'shambolic' action over smear test scandal fallout

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has defended the Government's response to the cervical cancer screening scandal amid accusations its reaction has been "shambolic".

Mr Varadkar insisted that action has been taken since the CervicalCheck storm broke.

He also revealed that the Government will seek to settle outstanding cervical cancer legal claims and pursue the labs for the costs afterwards.

However, the Government has been criticised for its handling to the controversy.

Fianna Fail health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly branded it "shambolic" and asked: "How on earth were they caught so unprepared?"

Labour's Alan Kelly said the Government "needs to take full control of this crisis and they have not yet done so".

Mr Varadkar made his remarks defending the Government at a press conference following a specially convened Cabinet meeting.

He apologised again to the women who had been affected and got emotional when asked what he would say to terminally-ill mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathuna.

He said there are "no words that I can say that can give her comfort at this time".


A planned Cabinet meeting in Monaghan, which was to mark two years of the current Government, was postponed as ministers stayed in Dublin to discuss the crisis.

Mr Varadkar was asked if this change in plan was due to concern over the Government's political survival.

The Taoiseach responded by saying he did not want anyone to have the impression that the Government is only acting now.

He said it first became aware of the issue 15 days ago and was "still only becoming aware of the facts".

Mr Varadkar said the Government only learned of controversial 2016 HSE memos about the audit of cervical cancer screening when the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told about it on Thursday.

He said actions taken include setting up a helpline for patients concerned about their smear tests and efforts to find and contact the 209 women who have been affected.

Six women are still to be tracked down and notified.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government has set up a scoping inquiry ahead of a future statutory investigation and has commissioned a full review of more than 1,400 cases of people who were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"They're all things that were done long before yesterday," he added.

Health Minister Simon Harris outlined a package of measures to support affected women and their families, including the provision of medical cards and covering the cost of drug treatments.

He said whatever resources are needed for the help being offered will be provided.

Separately, a man whose wife was one of the 17 women to die as a result of the cervical cancer scandal believes she was "murdered" by the HSE.

The man, named Paul, spoke to Niall Boylan on Classic Hits 4FM yesterday to talk about his wife Julie, who died in April 2017. She was 36 years old.

"When the news of the scandal broke it was playing on my mind all weekend," he said.

"I went back to work on Monday and a few friends started texting me, asking if I heard the news."

Paul started to suspect his wife could have died as a result of misdiagnosis, as her story sounded very similar to Vicky Phelan's.

He contacted his wife's doctor to make an appointment, but was not able to as the doctor was overbooked.

He then decided to call a local radio station to get information on just who contact.

However, when his phone started to ring Paul said he was too anxious to talk, so he handed the phone to a friend.

However, the phone call was not from the radio station, but from a woman in the HSE.

"I answered the phone and she said, 'I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but your wife was identified as one of the 17 women'."

Julie had a standard smear test in 2009. She then went back in 2013 for another test and found out she had cancer of the cervix.

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