Alan Kelly: We must get answers from past health ministers

All former health ministers stretching back over the last 15 years could be hauled before a cross-party Oireachtas committee to answer questions on the cervical cancer tests scandal.

Labour health spokesman and health committee member, Alan Kelly, is set to make the request at an emergency meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris, the HSE, the National Cancer Control Programme, the Medical Council, and CervicalCheck this morning.

Mr Kelly said that in light of the cervical cancer tests scandal there is an urgent need to question all health ministers stretching back 15 years to uncover what exactly they knew.

He said Mr Harris, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael senator Dr James Reilly, and Mary Harney must all be brought before the committee in the coming weeks due to the scale of the crisis.

“I think there’s a number of issues here. I want to have confidence in the other screening programmes but, certainly, we should check across all procedures. We probably need to bring in, and I will argue this at the committee, we probably need to bring in the laboratories involved and we may need to bring in previous health ministers regarding the decision-making process in relation to this.

“This should be including as far back as Mary Harney,” said Mr Kelly.

It is expected that Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE director general Tony O’Brien will attend today’s meeting, in addition to the HSE’s serious incident management team which over the weekend confirmed 208 women have been affected by what happened.

The committee is likely to ask the officials to clarify:

  • When exactly officials were first made aware of Vicky Phelan’s case, and if they were previously told in any way about similar cases which may have been settled;
  • If any similar cases have been the subject of confidentiality settlements, either with the US laboratories examining smear tests, the HSE, or other bodies;
  • If a redress scheme will be set up for affected women and when this will be created;
  • How many of the 208 women identified have terminal cancer;
  • Why the US laboratories continue to hold a HSE contract to review smear tests;
  • And if similar cases occurred in other cancer services in Ireland.


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