Labour Health spokesperson Alan Kelly TD today criticised the government for their handling of the Cervical Check scandal, saying that they need to “wise up”.
Mr Kelly was criticising comments made by Minister for Health Simon Harris earlier today that the government had hit a “roadblock” in handling the case of terminally-ill Ruth Morrissey whose case is currently before the High Court.
“The Minister for Health took to the national airwaves this morning to say that they had simply hit roadblocks in the dealing of this issue,” he said.
“Those at the centre of this issue know that these so-called roadblocks are of the government’s own making as they can’t keep to their own word.
“The real roadblocks are the agencies of the State such as the State Claims Agency and the HSE who are showing a complete lack of empathy for these women and their families and chasing them through the courts when they could be dealt with in a more dignified way.
“Today, Minister Harris regrettably returned to the line that the Cervical Check scandal is par to the course when it comes to screening errors.
“For the sake of the women involved, the Government need to wise up and move away from this line of thinking and take into account the experiences of women at the centre of this heartbreaking scandal,” he said.
Mr Harris had said that the government hit a “roadblock” in the case of Ruth Morrissey after mediation was unsuccessful and her case ended up in the High Court.
Mr Harris said it was not acceptable that the 37-year-old Limerick woman was before the courts and that he was “angry and upset" but "probably not near as upset as Ruth Morrissey and her family”
He said that it was genuinely true that the government didn’t want anybody to have to go to court as “who in their right might would want to see a terminally ill person in court”.
The Health Minister was speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Miriam programme after it was announced last night that a review into the CervicalCheck scandal would be held in public.
Mr Harris said he is confident that the investigation, chaired by High Court judge Charles Meenan, would find a new mechanism for women affected by the crisis to seek compensation away from the adversarial courts system.
“Judge Meenan is a very eminent High Court judge, he has a long history and record and of working in the area of clinical negligence.
“The Taoiseach has asked him to move ahead with this in establishing an alternative mechanism for dealing with these cases - on how to establish negligence and to report back in two months.”
Mr Harris weighed in on comments by Mr Varadkar last week that he should have been clearer on the commitment being made by government.
“He wishes he could have been clearer. The Taoiseach did the right thing in putting up his hands and saying ‘this is not the holy grail’.”
“We’re going to deliver on this commitment but we’re going to work out the best mechanism to do it, while recognising that yes, we have a duty of care to all women but we also have a duty to every woman and man who uses screening to make sure screening remains viable in Ireland.”
Mr Harris defended Ireland’s screening programme, saying that it was “performing in line with best international practice.”
'We need to continue to use our screening programme, cervical cancer rates have fallen in this country since we introduced CervicalCheck
“I have a duty of care to those 221 families but I also have a duty of care to every woman in this country and we need to balance that in the conversation
“This is an extraordinarily complex and difficult situation and we have to get it right, we have to support these families, and we also so have to support our screening programme and I’m determined to do both,” he said.
Responding to Minister Harris' comments on the same programme, solicitor Cian O'Carroll, who is representing some of the women involved in the controversy, said there seems to be a return to the line that the 221 women affected are part of some normal screening errors.
“They shouldn't be made to feel bad or in some way unworthy in looking for redress when they've been so severely harmed and wronged,” he said.
Mr O'Carroll accused the State of effectively hiding behind the women involved.
“As long as the State continues with its current policy which is to push the women out front, then do the fighting for them while the State effectively hides behind them and says we can't do anything because our hands are tied, well then this will continue case after case,” he said.
He said it was also wrong to say that mediation had worked in two cases in the past. He said had worked on both of the cases mentioned and neither were resolved in this way.
“The (Emma) Mhic Mhathúna case did not resolve in mediation and was settled subsequently through negotiation, the other case was the K case and there was no mediator involved in that whatsoever.”
On the Justice Meenan review, Cian O'Carroll told Miriam that his contribution should be insightful and very helpful. He also said that he is to speak with him shortly on the issue and is looking forward to it and offering any assistance that he can.
Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer last year, said this morning that the government’s announcement to hold a public review was “a positive step”.
“It’s better late than never,” he said. “It will be very interesting to see what (Justice Meenan’s) take is on it.”
Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 he said: “The important thing here is that families who do not want to go to the High Court, who have witnessed the brutality of the process that Ruth Morrissey went through last week, is to try and find a solution to keep those people from going to court.”
Mr Teap was asked whether he accepted that the government had been acting in the best interests of the women and their family, despite not always being on top of the scandal.
“It’s clear (the government) haven't been on top of it at any point,” he said.
“Some things have moved forward, but no I don’t really accept (the government have been acting with their best intentions) because I think the Taoiseach is more in a reactive mood rather than proactive mood and not actually getting out in front and taking charge of this.”
He said the State needs to “step in and find a solution” instead of women taking on the labs in court.
“The issue is clearly with the labs, it wasn't the women of Ireland who signed the contract with the labs, it was the HSE,” he said.
“We need to use our voices, me, Vicky and others to try and influence change because what is at the core of this is the culture within the Department of Health, the HSE, and even the State Claims Agency, this culture of protect, deny and silence.
“This is something that can't be dragged out over years.”