Pledge to settle cancer cases ‘quickly’

Women suing the State over inaccurate cervical cancer screening tests will not be dragged through the courts.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed he has asked Attorney General Seamus Woulfe to settle cases “quickly” without legal action.

The Cabinet met yesterday and discussed the fallout from the Vicky Phelan case and the fact that of 208 women with cancer, three quarters were not told of a delayed diagnosis.

Ms Phelan was forced to go to court where her case was settled but this was after the Government was aware of her situation.

Facing Dáil questions, Mr Varadkar said that it would be months rather than years before an inquiry would finish its work into the cancer tests scandal.

He also ruled out, for the moment, a commission of inquiry looking into the failed communications and inaccurate tests controversy as it would take too long and involve lawyers.

But Labour’s Brendan Howlin warned that an investigation led by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), as is proposed, may have limited powers, including the inability to make adverse findings. Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar believes Hiqa will get answers about the scandal.

“We believe that is the best and quickest way to do it. We need answers in months, not years, and it has the skills and the statutory powers to do so,” he said.

Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil that, as a former minister for health over two years ago, he was not aware of patient safety issues around cervical cancer checks or any audits of such.

During leaders’ questions, he said: “I was never informed of any patient safety concern or potential scandal relating to CervicalCheck and certainly not the outcome of any audit such as this. I have asked officials in the Department to check that for me in case my recollection is incorrect.”

Mr Varadkar also stood over his health chief, Tony O’Brien. The HSE director general is under fire over the cancer scandal, with calls for him to quit.

But he stopped short of expressing confidence in Mr O’Brien, who is set to leave his role later this year.

“Everyone, even Mr Tony O’Brien, deserves a fair hearing before being condemned. We need to assess whether that decision was wrong. It may turn out not to be wrong.”

The Taoiseach said he was “angry” about the scandal and was “determined” to get to the bottom of it.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Taoiseach: “It seems to me that the fact there was a deliberate policy decision that, in the event of women having died, the information was merely to be noted on a file and the family denied that information, which is their entitlement in terms of knowing the circumstances surrounding their mother’s death, is truly shocking.”

It has also emerged that legislation to make it mandatory for clinicians to inform patients of test results or health updates will go to Government next week.

Mr Varadkar said: “It will be in the patient safety bill. The minister expects to bring a memorandum to Cabinet next week.”

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