Latest: Interim HSE chief says those responsible for CervicalCheck failings will be held accountable

John Connaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins.

Update: 6pm: The interim Director General of the HSE has said individuals will be held accountable for failings in the CervicalCheck programme if required.

Speaking before the Public Accounts Committee today, John Connaghon said that it was the duty of organisations and individuals to hold themselves to account, to accept responsibility for their actions and to disclose the results in a "transparent manner".

Earlier, Labour's Health spokesperson Alan Kelly challenged Mr Connaghan on the viability of people involved in the scandal remaining in their positions while an independent inquiry is being carried out.

Mr Connaghan said that public confidence in the CervicalCheck programme has been "sadly undermined" by the recent controversy and that the "impact of this failure has been profound both for every single woman affected and their families".

"It has also undoubtedly caused significant levels of fear and anxiety for the wider population of women in Ireland," he said.

He also said that lessons must be learned during the Scally Inquiry and from any subsequent inquiries.

The committee was hearing from witnesses today to determine who knew what, and when, concerning the CervicalCheck failings and audit of women's smear test results.

The PAC heard from senior staff from the Department of Health, the HSE and the National Cancer Registry.

It followed the appearance of Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap before the committee yesterday when they called for health officials to be removed “in the same way as [ex-HSE director general] Tony O’Brien”.

Today, Ms Phelan accused the HSE and Department of Health on Twitter of "drip feeding inflammatory documents to try to water down the effect of the (CervicalCheck) cover up".

Earlier: Committee to hear from HSE staff after Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap call for health officials to step down

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Evelyn Ring, and Elaine Loughlin

Two victims of the CervicalCheck scandal are calling for senior health officials to step down while an inquiry takes place.

Vicky Phelan, who has terminal cancer, and widower Stephen Teap were giving evidence before the Public accounts Committee yesterday.

The PAC will today hear from senior staff from the Department of Health, the HSE and the National Cancer Registry.

Thirty five of the country’s top health officials need to be removed from their posts while an inquiry takes place into the smear tests scandal, Ms Phelan has said.

Ms Phelan and the widower of Irene Teap demanded the move last night as Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan insisted that the failure to tell women about concerns over test results in 2016 was “fair and reasonable” before a crunch Dáil session this morning.

Speaking during a specially arranged Public Accounts Committee meeting, terminally ill Limerick mother Ms Phelan and Cork father Stephen Teap insisted people need to be removed “in the same way as [ex-HSE director general] Tony O’Brien”.

Asked by Labour TD Alan Kelly about the fact 122 pages of documents released by the department on Tuesday show 35 HSE and department officials — including Dr Holohan — knew about the situation in 2016, both Ms Phelan and Mr Teap said they must be “stood down” while an inquiry takes place.

“Yes, 100%,” Ms Phelan said.

“In the same way Tony O’Brien is now out of position,” Mr Teap added. “If it’s 35 people, so be it. They can’t remain in positions of power. It’s a scandal, people are dead. I don’t understand how they can stay in these positions while inquiries are going on.

During the same PAC meeting yesterday evening, Ms Phelan and Mr Teap said they believed there has been an orchestrated “cover-up” , and that a culture of “deny” has overtaken patient care.

While insisting that she is looking for accountability “not revenge”, Ms Phelan said, “if I die I do not want it to be in vain”, and joined Mr Teap in calling for a “random” audit of all CervicalCheck smear tests over the past decade to find out if more than 209 women have been affected.

The demand was made as calls continue for Dr Holohan and others to step aside while an inquiry takes place.

Although Dr Holohan told yesterday’s health committee it was “fair and reasonable” not to tell women about incorrect smear tests in 2016, one Government minister backed calls for Dr Holohan to resign, saying his position is becoming “untenable”.

Interim HSE director general John Connaghan said: “Irrespective of the original, well intentioned undertaking by the CervicalCheck programme to conduct an audit of invasive cervical cancers and to communicate the results to patients affected, the organisation in that respect, both CervicalCheck and the HSE, have failed by any measure.”

The questions over officials’ futures are certain to dominate this morning’s PAC meeting with HSE and department officials over the crisis, with a number of PAC members telling Ms Phelan and Mr Teap they will raise the matter directly with those involved.

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins held a private meeting with cervical cancer victim Emma Mhic Mhathúna in Co Kerry yesterday, after the terminally ill woman made a heart-breaking plea for him to intervene on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland last week.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna last night publicly thanked Mr Higgins for the meeting, saying “it gave some comfort to my children to know he’s on their side”.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday questioned whether a decision to stop the introduction of mandatory open disclosure in 2016 was linked to what happened.

Is there any link between that and the then minister for health Leo Varadkar not proceeding with his original commitment to introduce mandatory disclosure?” he asked during the latest Leaders’ Questions debate.

However, Education Minister Richard Bruton, standing in for Mr Varadkar, rejected the claim, saying “there can be no link because no information [on the cervical cancer tests] was made available to the ministers concerned” at the time.

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