Questions have been raised in the Dáil as to whether a decision not to introduce mandatory disclosure was linked to the CervicalCheck scandal.
Opposition parties have pressed the Government on the fact the decision was made around the same time as letters were being sent to doctors, informing them of audits that had been carried out on smear checks.
Documents released this week and last reveal that the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, was aware of the letters and received regular updates throughout 2016.
Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said there was a “circumvention” of open disclosure and claimed the letters sent by CervicalCheck to doctors, in 2016, “gave them a way out” of telling women their smear results were initially incorrect.
The letters, also forwarded to Dr Holohan, stated the outcome of audits should be communicated to women, “as a general rule of thumb”. But clinicians, it was noted, should “use their judgement”, where they believed it would do “more harm than good” to tell women.
The comment was echoed by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, who said: “As minister for health, the Taoiseach promised to introduce mandatory open disclosure, but following advice from the chief medical officer, he changed his mind. That was the wrong advice and it was the wrong decision in 2016, and many women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal are now only being informed of their misread results.”
He claimed Mr Varadkar “u-turned”, based on advice received from Dr Holohon.
Taking leaders’ questions in the Dáil, Education Minister Richard Bruton said a voluntary disclosure system was initially introduced to “encourage a cultural change, where people could openly discuss failures”.
He said: “What we are moving to do, in the Patient Safety Bill, is that there will be mandatory disclosure. This will be legally binding, so it will be an offence to fail to do so.”
Mr Bruton said the documents between the HSE and the Department of Health “categorically” showed neither the Taoiseach nor the current Health Minister, Simon Harris, had any knowledge of non-disclosure. “So it cannot be linked to any decision that was made by either the minister or the Oireachtas,” he said, “no information was made available to the ministers.”
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