Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris back chief medical officer

The Taoiseach and the Health Minister have expressed full confidence in Tony Holohan as pressure mounts on him to resign.

Dr Holohan, the chief medical officer in the Department of Health was sent three memos in 2016 which revealed CervicalCheck was preparing a media response to possible headlines that would say “screening did not diagnose my cancer”.

However, these emails were not forwarded on to either Leo Varadkar who was Health Minister when the first memo was sent or current Health Minister Simon Harris.

While expressing confidence in Dr Holohan both men said those responsible must be held to account and no-one including Dr Holohan will be immune to this.

Mr Varadkar said: “We have a number of resignations already, but I firmly believe that the best way to hold individuals [to] account is through the commission of inquiry, a statutory body that has the authority to examine the evidence, question people and to make findings of fact.

“When it comes to holding people to account I think any reasonable person would agree there must be due process and a fair hearing and that’s exactly what these investigations will do.”

“Would I have liked to have known of course I would have like to have known, I was briefed on other patient-safety issues.”

Mr Harris said he was “very annoyed” that he had not been informed of the 2016 memos which also stated that a decision would be made on the order in which patients were told to “mitigate potential risks”.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said it is now critically important to find out who knew what and when.

“We need to find out if information was kept from ministers, why that information was kept from ministers, but more importantly why those ministers themselves are not insisting that all information that is relevant comes across their desk. This was a very very serious case and it strikes me that the strategy emanating from the Department of Health and echoed by the HSE was one of batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, keep the information from the women first and foremost.”

Ms O’Reilly said: “What we have seen in the last couple of days is proof, not that we needed it, that women should not have to take to the airwaves to get justice.”

However, Mr Varadkar defended the Government response stating that a scoping exercise had been set up to look into the controversy.

“We have put in a helpline to give advise, done a search around the country and even around the world to identify the 209 women affected, just over 200 of them have now been identified,” he said.

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