No conflict of interest for HSE chief, insists Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied there is a conflict of interest in HSE boss Tony O'Brien taking up a part-time job with a US medical company whose chair also oversees a Dublin hospital.

Mr Varadkar also faced fresh questions this morning on the cervical cancer scandal, as the controversy continues to engulf the Dáil and Government.

The Taoiseach confirmed that where a woman's cancer was missed that redress will be offered by the government. Health Minister Simon Harris is set to decide later today on what type of inquiry is needed into the scandal, when he meets Opposition parties.

During Leaders Questions in the Dáil, the Opposition raised queries about the director general of the HSE taking up a lucrative role in a US manufacturing firm while he remains as boss of the HSE.

Mr O'Brien became a board member of a San Diego company Evofem Biosciences on January 17, almost two months before it was announced that he would leave the HSE in August, a report says.

But in the Dáil, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin claimed that the chair of the US firm, Thomas Lynch, was also the chair of the Mater Hospital and there was a "conflict of interest".

Mr Martin said the health chief needed to spend all of his time overseeing his job here. Sinn Féin and Labour agreed with this.

But Mr Varadkar said Mr O'Brien's contract allowed him to take up the role as long as there was no conflict of interest with the HSE and there was not in this case.

Tony O'Brien

The Dáil also heard that a scheme of redress around the controversy is being considered and could eventually be prioritised for women where their cancer was missed during checks.

Mr Varadkar also said a new audit of women who were diagnosed with cancer would be carried out by the end of May by obstetricians and gynaecologists.

Mr Varadkar explained that these new audits could involve up to 3,000 women.

He told the Dail: "To the women of Ireland, I want to say that I am determined to get to the bottom of this, to establish the facts and to restore confidence in our cancer screening system. A number of actions have been agreed this morning.

"First, we are going to ask a team of expert international cytopathologists to carry out a clinical review and to look again at the smears of all the women who were diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 years. We do not have the exact figure but it is between 2,000 and 3,000.

"We will most likely find out that the majority of the additional 1,500, of whom we spoke yesterday, never had a smear test. The review will be led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who will try to identify the genuine false negatives and those cases which should have been reported differently. We believe this can be completed by the end of May."

He also rejected Opposition claims the controversy was, in fact, a cover-up by the HSE and said that generally there were "more cock-ups than conspiracy theories".

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