Latest: Sinn Féin plan motion of no confidence in Tony O’Brien; HSE gives CervicalCheck update

Tony O’Brien

Update 8.27pm: The HSE has given an update to its CervicalCheck Audit.

It says it's made contact to date with 201 women out of the 209 affected by the controversy.

The health authority says so far a total of 3,649 calls have been returned to women.

It says the call-backs take a period of time as when the person has a history of referral for colposcopy treatment or a history of cancer, it's providing a consultation with a clinical staff member with expertise.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin says the party will move a motion of no confidence in the Director General of the HSE Tony O'Brien next week.

The party's motion of no confidence won't go ahead this evening because of a procedural issue in the Dáil.

However, Sinn Fein's Health Spokesperson Louise O’Reilly says the party will bring a motion next Tuesday.

"We need to talk about accountability. There is no accountability in the HSE as long as Tony O'Brien remains as head of that organisation," said Ms O'Reilly.

"Sinn Féin will on Tuesday of next week, because we have swapped our time, move a motion of no confidence in Tony O'Brien.

"There can be no accountability until the victims' voices are heard. They are calling for Tony O'Brien to be stood down and we are backing that call."

Three Government Ministers told a Cabinet meeting they believed he should step down.The ministers are Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath.

However they will vote with the government and against Sinn Féin's motion of no confidence next week.

- Digital desk

Update 5.39pm: HSE boss Tony O’Brien ‘absolutely untouchable’, claims Sinn Féin

Ireland’s beleaguered health service chief appears to be untouchable, Sinn Féin said.

Tony O’Brien steps down as director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in July and said he is focused on helping fix problems with the cervical screening programme.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed Mr O’Brien’s leadership was part of the problem.

She told the Dáil: “It seems to people looking from the outside, not least the women and their families, that Tony O’Brien is untouchable, absolutely untouchable.

“Untouchable even though wives have been lost to their husbands.

“Untouchable even though mothers have been lost to their children.

“Untouchable even though life itself has been lost to these women.

“Untouchable even though the man patently and clearly has failed in his duty.”

She asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar what he was doing about it.

“The only thing that has any credibility, the only thing that will honour your promise to listen to the women and their families, is to state clearly, as I understand members of your own Cabinet stated today, that you have no confidence in Mr O’Brien.

“That Mr O’Brien must go.

“That Mr O’Brien is not part of the solution. In fact, his leadership of the HSE has been part of the problem.”

The Government has ordered a scoping inquiry into the cancer scandal.

An audit by CervicalCheck – the national screening programme – of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 found potential errors in 208 cases as tests showed no abnormality when they should have been given a cancer warning.

Seventeen have since died.

Mr Varadkar said the Government was putting the interests of affected women and their families first.

He added: “The inquiry will answer as many questions as possible as quickly as possible.

“We all know that people want to get answers as quickly as we can get them and we want that too.”

- PA

Update 3.48pm: 'Furious' Simon Harris declines to express confidence in Tony O'Brien

By Daniel McConnell

Minister for Health Simon Harris twice declined to express confidence in the director general of the Health Service Executive when asked on several occasions today if Tony O’Brien had his support, writes .

However the Minister said his position was clear and that was Mr O’Brien had only a number of weeks left in office. A recruitment process for his replacement would begin next week, he added.

Mr Harris said he knows people are angry at how this scandal occurred and he and other ministers also feel that anger.

He said he was “furious” at what gone on.

“I know people are angry and annoyed and believe it or not politicians are angry and annoyed. How could you not be after the events of the last fortnight. Information was put out, misinformation was given out. Facts were withheld, facts were not given. Women were let down. How could you not be furious at what has happened,” he said.

Tony O'Brien and Simon Harris

When pressed about Mr O'Brien's position, Mr Harris declined to express confidence in the director general.

“My focus is on getting answers for women. The DG has a few short weeks left, he is the outgoing DG of the HSE. I'd rather he spend his remaining few weeks cooperating,” he said.

“I reckon we will have a new DG by early July,” Mr Harris added.

Mr Harris called on Mr O'Brien to cooperate fully with making sure the women affected by the cervical cancer scandal get the answers they deserve.

“I have heard people say that there is benefit in him staying put. I have made my position clear in relation to Tony O'Brien, he has about 8 weeks to serve his post. I expect him to do everything he can to help provide answers to women,” he said.

“I am furious at what has happened, furious because of the situation it has put women in and furious that I haven't been at all times to have been able to give information that I wouldn't like to because that information wasn't forthcoming,” he said.

Launching the scoping exercise, Mr Harris said British medical expert Dr Gabriel Scally will chair the group, which is due to report back by the end of June.

The group has been given expansive terms of reference which has led to some concern that to deliver a report by the end of June is not possible.

Mr Harris said while the terms are “ambitious” he was confident Dr Scally and the team will get the job done.

“It would have been a mistake to jump straight into a Commission without doing this scoping exercise. I see this about gathering all the information, talking and listening to women about their experiences so that when we come to establishing a Commission it will be a very focused one,” he said.

“People have said they don't want a tribunal. I want people to have answers to their questions quickly,” he said.

The minister also confirmed that he sought and got Cabinet approval to move to re-establish the board of the HSE, confirming the abandonment of Fine Gael's previous policy of abolishing the body.

“I will be bringing back a HSE board so we can put in the best and the brightest in there,” he said.

Earlier Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the director general Mr O’Brien should “absolutely” should stay in his position and work “day in, day out” to get accountability and the facts around the cervical cancer screening scandal.

Mr O’Brien has been head of numerous sections within the health service, she said, “so he knows the system inside out. It’s far from letting him off, we should be”.

Three Government Ministers told a Cabinet meeting they believed he should step down.The ministers are Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath.

Update 2.45pm: Director of State Claims Agency says no CervicalCheck cases should go to trial

The Director of the State Claims Agency says Vicky Phelan should never have been before the courts after taking a case over her cervical cancer misdiagnosis.

Ciaran Breen has told an Oireachtas Committee he deplores the fact that she wasn't told the results of an audit into her smear in 2014, but that the failure to disclose did not change her clinical outcome.

Vicky Phelan

Ten similar cases are currently before the State Claims Agency and Mr Breen says none of them should end up in court after the Taoiseach asked that they be dealt with more compassionately.

"We would take very seriously the Taoiseach's remarks and do everything we possibly can to ensure that other families involved in these ten cases won't suffer the same trauma.

"None of these cases should go to trial. That's the reality. In three of the cases the US laboratory have already indemnified the agency.

I understand that some of the women have died.

Earlier: CervicalCheck inquiry to begin today as Dr Gabriel Scally appointed to lead investigation

Update 2pm: An inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal will begin its work today after Ministers signed off on it at cabinet.

The Scoping Inquiry will be led by Dr Gabriel Scally from the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK.

It will look at why 209 women were not told about their incorrect smear results.

The inquiry will also examine who knew what and when in the HSE and the Department of Health, before reporting in June.

Health Minister Simon Harris said it is a lot to examine in a short time frame.

He said: "They're very ambitious terms of reference, very comprehensive because they do have cross-party input.

"Dr Scally's job and Dr Denton's job will be to answer as many as possible, to provide as much facts as possible.

"So when Government and the Oireachtas considers this issue again at the end of June we can say these questions have already been satisfactorily answered, we have the information list, we don't have the information list and can have therefore a more focused commission of investigation."

Update 1.20pm: Tony O'Brien under pressure to resign over CervicalCheck controversy

By Elaine Loughlin

Sinn Féin are to do anything they can to force Tony O'Brien to resign claiming there is a new scandal in the HSE every week.

The party have been stopped from putting forward a Dáil motion of no confidence in HSE director general Mr O'Brien for his handling of the smear check controversy.

Speaking outside the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach and Health Minister Simon Harris to "lead" by asking for Mr O'Brien's resignation.

She said her party will now pursue “all avenues” to force Mr O'Brien to step aside after their motion was ruled out of order.

Ms McDonald said regardless of the scandals that emerge and wrong-doing that is unearthed "there are certain individuals in senior roles who simply are untouchable" and this must now change.

"If the Government are not prepared to do what they need to do and to relieve Mr O'Brien of his duties well then those of us who are parliamentarians are left with no option but to bring a motion to the floor of the Dáil.

"All of this could be sorted out very simply - the Taoiseach could lead.

Where things go catastrophically wrong, the person at the top is the person who has to take account.

"It is clear to me he is not capable, he [Mr O'Brien] is not competent to lead the HSE in the way that is necessary and therefore he has to go."

She added: "We have gotten to the point where it's nearly a HSE scandal a week and that's not good enough.

"We have a government who won't act we have parliament potentially silenced on the issue and that's not good enough."

Earlier: Latest: Tanáiste vows to address concerns of Cork father whose wife died of cervical cancer

By Roisin Burke

Update 12pm: Tanáiste Simon Coveney has vowed to address concerns raised by a grief-stricken Cork husband whose wife died of cervical cancer after being given incorrect screening results.

Mr Coveney has promised that accountability will be reached in the ongoing cervical cancer scandal after his neighbour Stephen Teap spoke about the heartbreak of losing his wife Irene to cervical cancer following two false negative smear test results in 2010 and 2013.

Stephen and Irene Teap with their two children. Irene Teap died last year after receiving incorrect cervical cancer screening results.

However, Mr Coveney has stopped short of supporting a call by Mr Teap for the HSE boss Tony O’Brien to resign.

Mr Coveney said: “Stephen is a neighbour of mine, I went to see him over the weekend.

Of course I want to help him, he had an absolutely horrific experience, whereby he has been let down by the HSE and he is now raising two young boys on his own and trying to cope with the knowledge that if he and Irene had known earlier about her early onset of cancer, then perhaps she would be alive today.

Mr Coveney said he had huge sympathy for Mr Teap.

“It is a really difficult thing for him to manage and he is demanding that we learn lessons from his tragedy so that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

“He is demanding that we do what is necessary to provide reassurance to women that we can trust the screening system in terms of consistency and results and it is my responsibility and the Taoiseach’s responsibility and Simon Harris’s responsibility to respond to those challenges comprehensively and I have given him a commitment that we will do that.

Although Mr Teap said that he wanted to see HSE head Tony O’Brien resign, the Tánaiste said that was not something they were looking at.

“I’m not sure that the focus here should all be on one person. The focus needs to be on establishing the truth and reassuring and protecting women in a way that clearly hasn’t happened in the past,” said Mr Coveney.

Mr Teap released a statement at the weekend, saying:

When I look at my two little boys this week I’m overwhelmed with emotion as all the ‘what ifs?’ come flooding through my mind and I try to come to terms with how different their lives could have been. The reality is their mum is gone forever and this could have been prevented.

Evening Echo

Earlier: Simon Harris to appoint UK expert to head CervicalCheck inquiry

Update 10.50am: It is understood a UK-based medical expert will head the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he will appoint a UK-based medical expert and a gynaecologist from abroad to lead the inquiry.

That person will produce a progress report early in June, before reporting to the minister at the end of the month.

They are due to arrive in Ireland today.

The Health Minister says lessons need to be learned as part of an inquiry into the Cervical Check controversy.

It will look at why women were not told their results were being rechecked, who knew what in the HSE and Department of Health, along with the process of outsourcing smear tests to labs in the US.

Simon Harris says he hopes it gets to the bottom of what happened.

This is too important not to, and it's also too important to have a situation where answers wouldn't become apparent for many months and years.

"We've got to be able to reassure women in this country that the life-saving screening programme is working, that it's working in line with best international standards and we've got to learn lessons from this."

Earlier: Minister to establish Scoping Inquiry into CervicalCheck

Update 6.30am: A Scoping Inquiry into what happened at CervicalCheck will be set up today.

Health Minister Simon Harris is bringing terms of reference for the investigation to Cabinet for approval.

It will investigate the non-disclosure to patients of the CervicalCheck smear test audits, management of the scheme, and will try to establish who knew what in the HSE and the Department of Health.

It will also look at the tendering and operation of the laboratories used by CervicalCheck to examine smear tests.

Work will start this week and the inquiry will work with Vicky Phelan and any other affected women.

Vicky Phelan

Minister Harris hopes the inquiry will report back in June.

He is also going to tell his ministerial colleagues he plans to appoint a new HSE board, and introduce legislation to allow him to do that.

Plans for mandatory open disclosure will also go to Cabinet this morning.

Minister Harris is considering it a priority as the most practical legislative response to the recent scandal.

Former Master of the Rotunda Hospital Sam Coulter Smith is welcoming the establishment of a Scoping Inquiry but he has warned we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions.

"We know that a lot of the primary smears, the first smears, sent to the States and often the second smears, where an abnormality has been picked up, or smears done from the colposcopy clinic, are sometimes dealt with in the Irish systems," he said.

"We may not be comparing like with like."

More on this topic

Tribunal to deal with CervicalCheck claims delayed by Brexit

Concerns raised at HSE's ability to deliver CervicalCheck inquiry recommendations

Top medic tried to prevent Cervical Check review

Scally report into CervicalCheck a watershed in Irish healthcare

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