CervicalCheck Scandal: Chief medical officer defies calls to step down from position

Dr Tony Holohan

Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has ignored calls to resign over the cervical cancer tests scandal by controversially claiming he would not be doing his job if he informed ministers of every health crisis.

Dr Holohan twice rejected calls to step down over his role in the scandal, saying he was prepared to “answer for all of the judgments I have made” and, further, that he has no intention of quitting his post.

During a continuing Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee meeting where cervical cancer victim Vicky Phelan and widower Stephen Teap had called, on Thursday, for 35 officials to be sacked over the scandal, interim HSE director general John Connaghan said he will act on what happened.

Stating he was aware of the calls by Ms Phelan and Mr Teap, Mr Connaghan said if he was given undeniable proof some people are responsible for the crisis he will remove them from office.

“I want to reassure Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap that I am listening and I am listening intently.

“I’m aware of their testimony. If there is a requirement to hold individuals to account we will do so. We will then learn lessons from recent weeks, not least the ability to say ‘sorry’,” said Mr Connaghan.

However, more people may leave their posts in the wake of ex-HSE director general Tony O’Brien’s resignation last week.

But Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Holohan said he has no intention of leaving.

Despite clear evidence he was fully aware of the cervical cancer scandal two years ago in 2016 and failed to tell either the former health minister and now Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, or the current Health Minister Simon Harris, Dr Holohan said he did nothing wrong.

Answering questions from Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, Dr Holohan claimed that he would not be doing his job if he had informed the ministers.

“If I was to relay to a minister all of the things not only that I know, but also potential issues, I don’t think I would be doing my job.

“I have no problem with accountability. I welcome the accountability that will come from the [Gabriel] Scally inquiry process, and I’m very happy to answer for all of the judgments that I made,” he said.

Asked during a later discussion by Fianna Fáil’s Marc Mac Sharry if he should resign, Dr Holohan repeated his view he was innocent of wrongdoing and that his decision to fail to tell the ministers in 2016 was correct.

“If I escalate every potential risk I am aware of; all risks I am aware of, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I stand over the advice I gave, I made professional judgments,” he said.

However, he was heavily criticised by Labour TD Alan Kelly who, emphasising the depth of the crisis to Dr Holohan, said: “If there was an iota of information this was completely in the Department, Simon Harris would be out of a job, Leo Varadkar would probably not be Taoiseach. That’s where this could end up... We’ve got to minutely find out here what happened and who messed up.”

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