Review of 3,000 smears has yet to start

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described as highly unsatisfactory that examination of 3,000 smear tests have not yet begun, despite promises they would be complete more than a month ago.

He was speaking after it emerged the number of cases directly involved in the cervical check scandal has risen from 209 to 221.

The Department of Health and the HSE confirmed yesterday the increase by 12 of those who are affected by the CervicalCheck smear scandal during an appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

There were tetchy exchanges between PAC members who felt that they were being “given the run around” by HSE in terms of information being revealed.

Committee members also heard that there are now a total of 40 legal cases completed, ongoing or likely.

They heard there are now 35 active legal cases, three cases have been settled and there are two potential cases.

However, in relation to the non-commencement of the smear test examinations, Mr Varadkar said: “I’m very dissatisfied that the actual review of the slides hasn’t started yet. Work has begun though, the terms of reference have been agreed, and the preliminary work has been done.

But certainly we had thought back in May that this was a job that could be done more quickly, and we now understand it’s going to take a bit longer, but we’re obviously going to do everything we can to make sure that work is done as quickly as possible.

At the PAC, Labour TD Alan Kelly gave voice to the anger and frustration to the news that all of the 3,000 smear scans, due to be completed by the end of May, have yet to be examined.

He said that process will not conclude until after the publication of the Gabriel Scally scoping report into the scandal. As a result, he said Dr Scally’s report will be incomplete.

About the frustrations expressed by Dr Scally in getting documents from the HSE, Mr Varadkar said: “No, it is not acceptable. The position from Government in terms of what we are saying is that we have asked Dr Scally to carry out this inquiry, he is doing it on behalf of the Government. Anyone who is not co-operating with him is not co-operating with Government. I don’t think I can be any more clear on this. I will have to keep saying it so. We want to get to the bottom of this.”

In response to Mr Kelly, Department of Health assistant secretary Tracey Conroy said there is a recognition that proper and good communication needs to occur.

Ms Conroy said it had never been likely that the smear test slides would be completed in advance of the overall Scally review. She said this point was communicated to the Government.

“It was never intended that the review would be completed before the Scally report, that was always likely to take four to six months,” she said. “We were clear to government on this. We are engaging on a daily basis and it is progressing very well but we are conscious of the need for good communication,” she said.

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