HSE to pay Vicky Phelan’s treatment bill but three others being denied settlements

The HSE has agreed to pay the €150,000-a-year cost of treatment for cervical cancer victim Vicky Phelan — but is still denying other women settlements along with a US lab at the centre of the scandal.

The double-standards row emerged as opposition parties piled pressure on the Government to sack HSE director general Tony O’Brien immediately, tabling a Dáil no confidence motion in Mr O’Brien which will be heard on Tuesday.

Speaking as Health Minister Simon Harris labelled the HSE’s drip-feed response to date as “disgusting”, and as a 209th woman was identified, Ms Phelan said the HSE has finally agreed to pay her treatment bill.

Ten days after her case was settled, she told RTÉ Radio’s The Ray D’Arcy Show her medical care bill — which involves €8,300 for drugs every three weeks, resulting in a €150,000 a year expense — will now be paid by the State.

“It’s either good sense or else they’re just running terrified and running for the hills,” said Ms Phelan.

While the HSE’s decision to pay for Ms Phelan’s care was broadly welcomed last night, it was overshadowed by the fact three women are still being blocked from receiving settlements.

In a “confidential” briefing note sent to the Dáil’s cross-party health committee on Thursday and seen by the Irish Examiner, the State Claims Agency said three of 10 active legal cases remain unsettled.

“The HSE has received indemnities in three of those claims from the laboratories,” the note reads. “We understand the laboratories’ insurers have not settled any of the claims where they have granted an indemnity to the State.

“Of the other seven claims, the only claim settled is the Vicky Phelan claim. The other six claims are ongoing.”

While the six claims referenced are understood to be those Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week committed to ensuring are settled without the need for a court battle, compensation for the remaining three is currently being blocked.

The response emerged on another fast-moving day in the cervical cancer tests scandal, during which:

  • Ms Phelan confirmed she will be on the government panel examining what form of inquiry should be established, saying “I will not let the country down”;
  • Mr Varadkar admitted almost 13 of the 209 women known to have been affected have still not been contacted;
  • Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government may scrap its contracts with the US laboratory at the centre of the scandal in October when the deal comes up for renewal;
  • The Irish Medical Organisation said GPs have been given extra resources from the HSE to address the issue;
  • The Irish Cancer Society said it has been given “emergency funding” for 500 more counselling sessions with women who believe they were affected.

Meanwhile, the Government was last night under mounting pressure to sack Mr O’Brien after both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil said that he must step down immediately.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly yesterday tabled a no confidence motion in Mr O’Brien which will be the subject of a Dáil vote on Tuesday, while Fianna Fáil counterpart Stephen Donnelly told Newstalk that the HSE boss must go “with immediate effect” as his term “is going to distract from supporting women”.

While the view was repeated by Ms Phelan, a spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said his position remains unchanged, a view shared by Mr O’Brien.

Mr Harris also believes Mr O’Brien should stay until his contact ends in 12 weeks.

However, Government sources said the fact Fianna Fáil has joined Sinn Féin’s calls for his resignation means this may change in the coming days.

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