Varadkar defends Harris after ex-HSE boss hits out at Health Minister

Varadkar defends Harris after ex-HSE boss hits out at Health Minister

Latest: The Taoiseach has stepped in to defend Minister for Health Simon Harris after a former health boss accused him of behaving like a “frightened little boy” during the cervical cancer screening scandal.

Varadkar defends Harris after ex-HSE boss hits out at Health Minister

Leo Vardakar went on to accuse the HSE of passing its problems on to the Department of Health – a practice he said needs to stop.

In an interview with the Sunday Business Post, former HSE chief Tony O’Brien accused Mr Harris of being a weak minister.

Mr O’Brien, who resigned in May as head of the HSE over the cancer controversy, claimed Mr Harris was obsessed with media coverage and also attacked politicians who probed the issue.

In a move to defend his Cabinet minister, Mr Varadkar said: “The past six months alone, he brought through the referendum to repeal the Eighth amendment and at long last has enacted the public health alcohol bill – legislation that is going to save a lot of lives.

“Those are two pretty big achievements by a Health Minister in six months. I believe anything he may lack in terms of experience or age he makes up in his commitment and compassion.”

He said that “on balance” Mr O’Brien was a “good public servant” who gave the country some good service.

“But let’s not forget the circumstances under which he decided to step down early and that was the HSE’s very bad handling of the CervicalCheck controversy which he admits himself was a train wreck – I think he was right to step down early,” he continued.

Mr O’Brien’s comments have also been criticised by victims and campaigners of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Lorraine Walsh, who received an incorrect smear test (Brian Lawless/PA)
Lorraine Walsh, who received an incorrect smear test (Brian Lawless/PA)

Lorraine Walsh, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer after previously receiving inaccurate test results, said it was a pity Mr Tony O’Brien “couldn’t take responsibility for the disaster that is the HSE”, that he had led.

Mr Varadkar admitted there has always been difficulties in health, but added it is “not good enough” for the HSE to write letters passing on the problems to the Department of Health.

“That’s not what people are paid a lot of money to do,” he added.

“Most agencies accept it is their responsibility to come in on budget, but the HSE’s practice for many years now has been to pass the problem on to the department and that is something that has to change

– and it will certainly have to change now that we have a record budget for health, an extra €1 billion next year.

“If the Department of Education, if pretty much every government agency and government body can come in under budget it isn’t too much to ask the HSE to do so and it’s not good enough they just write letters passing the problem on to the department.

“As I always say, we have a lot of problems in health, nobody denies that.

“We have serious problem in overcrowding in our emergency departments, we’ve got a lot of people who are waiting for too long for the appointment they need or the treatment they need.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and that is the fact we have made enormous progress in health over the last couple of years.”- Press Association

Earlier: The Taoiseach has defended Health Minister Simon Harris and says the HSE needs to stop passing its problems on to the Department of Health.

In an interview with The Sunday Business Post, the ex-HSE boss accused Mr Harris of being a weak minister, who behaved like a “frightened little boy” during the recent health scandal.

The Taoiseach said people should not forget Mr O'Brien was head of the HSE at the time of its 'train wreck' response to the issue.

Leo Varadkar also defended his Health Minister.

"Look at that guy's [Harris'] record. In the past six months alone, he brought through the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and at long last has enacted the Public Health Alcohol Bill legislation that's going to save a lot of lives," said the Taoiseach.

"That's two pretty big achievements by a health minister in six months and I believe anything he may lack in terms of experience or age, he makes up in his commitment and his compassion."

Yesterday, a number of CervicalCheck scandal victims criticised Mr O'Brien after the interview.

Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien

Lorraine Walsh, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer after previously receiving inaccurate test results, said it was a pity that Mr O’Brien “couldn’t take responsibility for the disaster that is the HSE”, that he had led.

She tweeted: “Pity after all this time he couldn’t take responsibility for the disaster that is the HSE, that he lead and desperately failed at leading! Shame on you Tony O’Brien, you made me sick and now 6 years later you make me feel sick!”

The Galway woman is one of the more than 220 women affected by failures in the CervicalCheck screening system.

It emerged earlier this year that 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

The husband of one of the victims also hit out at Mr O’Brien.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died last year, tweeted along with a link to the story: “Head of the ‘Old Boys Club’ gets taken out, read his bitter response here in this interview.”

In the article, Mr O’Brien described the HSE’s initial response to the crisis as a “trainwreck” with Mr Teap asking: “Who was the leader of this ‘trainwreck’? Where are the questions on his poor leadership skills.”

Mr Harris appointed Mr Teap and Ms Walsh as patient representatives to a steering committee tasked with overseeing changes to the CervicalCheck programme.

- Digital Desk & PA

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