TDs seek scoping exercise ahead of cancer-screening investigation terms

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith

Opposition TDs want a scoping exercise carried out into the cancer screening scandal ahead of draft terms for a commissioner of investigation being agreed.

That was the message delivered to Health Minister Simon Harris last night as TDs from all parties met with him amid efforts to get to the bottom of the controversy.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already committed to a clinical inquiry which would be led by the health watchdog Hiqa.

But opposition TDs say this will have limited powers and more than likely end up leading to a more powerful commission of investigation.

This type of inquiry would have powers of compelability and could also make adverse findings, unlike one conducted by Hiqa.

Amid more confusion and public outrage over the botched cervical cancer tests crisis, a meeting was held in Leinster House last night to find agreement on the best way forward.

Mr Harris and the Government have concerns that a commission of investigation could last for years and involve many lawyers but ultimately not get answers for women or their families for some time.

Vicky Phelan, the Limerick mother who has helped expose the screening controversy, also has suggested a commission of investigation may take too long.

But after listening to opposition TDs last night, government sources said Mr Harris was supportive of suggestions on how to set up a commission of investigation.

Under the suggested plans, a scoping exercise would be carried out by an international expert. The expert after a month would then possibly report back with drat terms for a commission of investigation. This would address key questions raised by TDs. The scoping exercise and possibly terms would also benefit from a clinical review being carried out into some 3,000 women who have been diagnosed with cancer over the last decade. This will be finished at the end of this month.

While the creation of a commission of investigation has yet to be agreed, it is understood all opposition parties are of the view a Hiqa-led inquiry is no longer plausible.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said Mr Harris told TDs at the meeting he wants them to provide their formal recommendations to him by tomorrow evening.

She said that in addition to the scoping exercise, she is in favour of a commission of investigation being launched as soon as possible on the strict condition there are guarantees it is short and does not last for years.

Ms Smith also called for the potential commission of investigation to include other State cancer services such as bowel cancer and Breast Check, adding the scoping exercise must take account of the potential role of outsourcing in the scandal.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said while she is in favour of a wider commission of investigation, she told Mr Harris there were potential pitfalls with such a move and that these would need to be careful examined as part of the scoping exercise.

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