HSE Director Tony O'Brien announces resignation amid cervical smear controversy

Tony O'Brien has announced he will be stepping down as Director General of the HSE.

As detailed in a statement from the HSE, Mr O'Brien will step down at the close of business tomorrow "in order to avoid any further impact to the delivery of health and social care services, in particular the cancer screening services that have become the focus of intense political debate in recent days".

He said that "notwithstanding the clear communication failures surrounding the CervicalCheck Audits", he is "confident that the Scally Review will demonstrate the quality and value of the CervicalCheck Programme once it is complete".

Mr O'Brien said he looks forward to co-operating and engaging with the review.

The statement said that Mr O’Brien "has been proud to lead the health services and the many staff who have worked tirelessly and with great dedication to provide health and social care services in a very challenging environment.

It states that he "remains deeply committed to health reform in Ireland and in particular the full implementation of the Slainte Care Report" and retains his "fullest support for Minister Harris in this regard".

In a separate statement, the Department of Health said that Mr O'Brien met with the Minister for Health Simon Harris this evening and informed him of his decision.

Minister Harris has thanked Mr O’Brien for his many years of service and dedication.

“I would like to express my thanks to Tony O’Brien for his many years of dedicated public service.

"I know that he is standing down from his role today because he believes it is in the best interest of rebuilding public confidence in the wake of the issues which have arisen in CervicalCheck.

"Tomorrow the Cabinet meeting will again discuss this matter and the further measures which can be put in place to care for and support the women and families affected.”

Mr O Brien's departure came after the heart-breaking interview with Emma Mhic Mhathúna on RTE Radio's Morning Ireland programme and revelations at the Dáil public accounts committee today that he was aware of a memo two years ago highlighting incorrect Cervical Check tests.

In the hours before he quit, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone publicly said the memos were "a game-changer" and formally called on cabinet to say they no longer have confidence in him at a meeting tomorrow.

The call was repeated by Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Labour, the latter two of whom said they would back Sinn Féin's now defunct Dáil no confidence motion in Mr O' Brien due on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin was the first party to comment on the resignation, with Mary Lou McDonald commenting that it was "a necessary first step in achieving accountability for this scandal".

However, despite the departure, the Government is still not off the hook amid growing concerns over what the Government knew of the scandal, and when.

Last week, it was revealed that an audit by CervicalCheck of 1,482 women diagnosed with the cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in 208 cases, as tests showed no abnormality when they should have been given a cancer warning.

The majority of the 208 women – 162 – were not initially told of the outcome of the audit. Of the 208, 17 have since died.

- Digital Desk. Additional reporting Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Daniel McConnell.

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