Sunday 17 February 2019

O'Brien takes US 'leave of absence' to assist in CervicalCheck inquiry

HSE boss Tony O’Brien
HSE boss Tony O’Brien

Politicians believe HSE boss Tony O'Brien can best assist the CervicalCheck inquiry by staying on, despite calls from Vicky Phelan for him to be sacked.

After talks with Simon Harris, Mr O'Brien has agreed to take a "leave of absence" from his non-executive directorship of a US medical firm until July.

Opposition parties have been heavily critical of the health minister for allowing the HSE director general to take up a secondary role ahead of his scheduled retirement in 12 weeks.

"I recognise that he has resolved to devote the short time he has left to serve as director general in working to deal with the CervicalCheck issue," said Mr Harris.

"I appreciate that he began his HSE career in the screening services and wishes to end it by working to restore confidence in them. He has an awful lot of work to do in that regard."

In the Dail, Mr Harris noted that Mr O'Brien has "less than 12 weeks left in his contract".

"It is the Government's judgment that Tony O'Brien can be the most use to the women of Ireland in establishing facts here if he focuses on trying to assist in the process that the Government puts together between now and when he leaves the HSE," Mr Harris added.

The minister's comments came just hours after the woman who blew the lid on the cancer scandal, Vicky Phelan, said she wanted heads to roll.


The terminally-ill mother said Mr O'Brien had "shown nothing but arrogance" and claimed he is "is more concerned with defending the indefensible than doing the right thing".

Fianna Fail sources said party leader Micheal Martin would not push for Mr O'Brien's resignation despite the public outrage.

Two of his female TDs - Fiona O'Loughlin and Anne Rabbitte - have said they do not have confidence in the HSE boss, although they did not directly call for him to be pushed aside.

Fine Gael senator Kieran O'Donnell, who is a neighbour of Ms Phelan, broke ranks to criticise Mr O'Brien.

"Tony O'Brien, head of the HSE, came out yesterday and said it was a personal blow. For me, a personal blow must come with personal responsibility.

"It is extraordinary that someone who heads up an organisation of this size is not taking responsibility on this area," he said.

Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty said the performance by Mr O'Brien and other health service representatives who attended an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday was a case of "passing the buck".

He said it was an "absolute disgrace" that Mr O'Brien says he cannot take full responsibility for the scandal.


"Women, some of whom are now cancer patients, or dead or dying, were denied information about their health because of the failings of those responsible in our health service," he said.

"One week into this scandal and we still do not even know how many women are affected.

"The buck stops with someone. That person is Tony O'Brien who oversees the HSE."

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