HSE refusal to answer on cancer audit ‘unacceptable’

Minister for Health Simon Harris.

The HSE has been accused of withholding information after refusing to provide answers on when each of the hospital group managers was told of the 2014 cervical cancer test audit.

Vice-chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Alan Kelly, has said he asked for the information on May 3, before the Scally investigation was established.

However, Health Minister Simon Harris responded by stating that the question “related to matters which are now the subject of a scoping inquiry” and so could not provide these details.

Mr Harris wrote that this inquiry would examine the facts, including details of the non-disclosure to patients relating to CervicalCheck clinical audits and the level of knowledge of various parties including the HSE and the Department of Health.

“Dr Scally will report to me by the end of next month setting out his findings,” wrote Mr Harris.

Mr Kelly said: “The department came back last Thursday and said that because of the Scally review they are not going to answer. This is completely unacceptable. There is no reason whatsoever for my questions not to be answered.

“It makes me wonder what have they to hide.”

Mr Kelly said he has since contacted Mr Harris again as well as the Ceann Comhairle and secretary general of the Department of Health in a bid to receive the information.

He said he has asked for the details to be supplied before senior officials in the HSE and Department of Health appear before the PAC on Thursday where they will be asked to reveal who was notified of the audits and when.

“I want to know when hospital managers found out about these audits, I think this is crucial information. They are critical pieces of the jigsaw.”

The PAC is to meet in private today ahead of its crunch meeting with health officials over the scandal.

The interim director general of the HSE, John Connaghan, and other senior officials are to face a grilling from committee members who are still smarting over the revelations in the memos which led to Tony O’Brien’s departure.

PAC members have rejected Government fears about the committee carrying out a parallel investigation while the scoping inquiry chairman Dr Gabriel Scally conducts his work.

He is to prepare an initial report next month and examine why cancer warnings were missed and why those misses were not notified to the women.

The belief among some in Government is that the Scally inquiry should be allowed to carry out its work.

They have argued that the Dáil’s spending watchdog should not be allowed to run a parallel investigation or muscle in on Dr Scally’s work.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Harris are also expected to come under more pressure in the Dáil today at leaders’ questions after it emerged they were not made aware of the three memos which revealed CervicalCheck was developing responses to possible headlines that would read “screening did not diagnose my cancer”.

The memos also stated that letters to the women affected would be “paused” and the order and volume of dispatch would be decided on to “mitigate potential risks”.


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