Friday 22 February 2019

Ministers look beyond Ireland for expert to conduct investigation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

An expert from outside of Ireland is to be recruited to conduct a preliminary investigation into the cervical cancer scandal.

The "scoping exercise" will be expected to provide answers to many of the questions raised in recent days by the end of June.

Health Minister Simon Harris met with Opposition TDs last night to agree a path forward.

Sources who attended the meeting said there was agreement that the priority is to get quick answers to key questions.

While the option of establishing a full-blown Commission of Investigation remains on the table, it will not be invoked until after the initial process is completed.


The minister is to spend the coming days recruiting a suitable expert from outside of Ireland and will bring detailed proposals to Cabinet next Tuesday.

"The scoping exercise will be different from previous ones of this kind. Its objective will be to provide initial answers," a source said.

"It can also recommend terms of reference for a Commission of Investigation if this is viewed as necessary."

Two clinical reviews, which are already under way, will feed into the inquiry.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said in the Dail yesterday that the "most effective route to restoring confidence is for a competent, comprehensive inquiry that will get to the truth".

"The precise model is not actually the key - the key is the chair, the personnel and the terms of reference," he added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted there are "limitations" to a Hiqa inquiry.

"There are problems also with a commission of inquiry and what we know what they are as well," he said.

The Labour Party has been particularly critical of the Hiqa approach originally proposed.

It argued that it would not have the ability to take sworn evidence or the capacity to cross-examine personnel.

However, Mr Varadkar has expressed concern that a commission would be a much more cumbersome and lengthy process, as individuals were likely to hire legal representatives.

It has emerged that women who suffered a delayed cancer diagnosis will have to wait until after the investigation to receive redress from the State.

Mr Varadkar said that the Government will look at "a scheme of redress for women whose cancer was missed and should have been detected beyond normal error, and for women where there was a breach of duty to inform them of the audit results".

However, he indicated that compensation would not be paid out until all of the facts have been established.

Around 70 doctors and nurses have now been drafted in to staff a helpline for people concerned about the cervical cancer scandal, which is receiving 2,000 calls a day.

The Department of Health has said the number of calls is "much higher than expected".

It has had to assign extra medics and the department is now receiving assistance from experts who normally work with the Irish Cancer Society and Marie Keating Foundation.

Women have complained that they are struggling to get through. Even when they do, most are simply asked to supply their details and told they will be called back at some stage over the coming days.

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry defended the process, saying the calls take some time to deal with properly.

Of the 5,035 calls to the helpline up to Tuesday, 4,876 require a call back.

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