Calls for HSE director general to resign or be fired

HSE director general Tony O'Brien

Calls have been made for the resignation of HSE director general Tony O’Brien in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal or for the Taoiseach to remove him.

Opposition parties also called for the establishment of a redress scheme and hit out at a “rotten” and “potentially sinister” culture in the HSE.

The failures in cervical cancer screenings dictated proceedings in the Dáil yesterday after it emerged that 17 women who initially received false positive results have since died.

The HSE has also confirmed that at least 208 women who have since been diagnosed with cervical cancer were initially told their tests were negative.

Labour TD Alan Kelly insisted a redress scheme must be set up immediately, saying “even at this stage I can’t see any way there isn’t going to be one”.

Mr Kelly said the cervical cancer tests scandal is in line with “Magdalene Laundries, Susie Long, Bridget McCole, Amanda Mellet, and Rebecca O’Malley” and the treatment of the women has been “absolutely disgraceful”.

He said he was “gobsmacked” to learn HSE director general Mr O’Brien only heard about what happened from RTÉ News, and warned that if the Government does not provide full information on what it knew, both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris “will have serious questions to answer”.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr O’Brien was told “categorically” that the outsourcing of smear tests to the US had led to cases being missed.

“He was told this by the very committee that had responsibility for quality assurance. Tony O’Brien, from what I can ascertain, ignored that advice up to and including a scenario where the committee charged with quality assurance stepped aside. Now that’s quite an astonishing turn of events,” she said.

“Tony O’Brien presides over the HSE, an organisation — and let it be said, with the backing of Government — that has aggressively pursued women though the courts in circumstances where they knew that fault was on the side of the State and the HSE itself and yet he has seen fit to preside over all of that.

“My view is that Tony O’Brien’s position is untenable, I don’t believe he has credibly led the HSE,” said Ms McDonald.

She said she does not believe for a second that there was “a full appreciation of the scale” of the failings within CervicalCheck.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly claimed there was a “rotten” and “potentially quite sinister” culture at the heart of the HSE as he called for full transparency on the cervical cancer tests scandal.

Mr Donnelly said the focus this week on the cervical cancer controversy must be on the women and their families and in particular those who were not told about their false negative cancer tests.

“We now know sadly some of them are deceased.

“In the first instance, the focus must be on engaging with those women, with those families, providing support, providing counselling where needed.”

Mr Donnelly said there is now a need to look at how the information had been disseminated.

He said there were important questions that needed to be asked such as why women were not told of the false negative test results, who took that decision within the HSE, and why clinicians had not passed on information to patients.

But Mr Donnelly also had some tough words for the HSE, adding that there was a culture of gagging orders and not passing on clinician information.

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