Top health officials face PAC grilling

Senior health officials are to be grilled to establish who knew what and when about damning CervicalCheck memos.

As the cervical screening scandal rumbles on, Department of Health chief medical officer Tony Holohan, interim HSE director John Connaghan, and officials who wrote the 2016 memos are to be hauled before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris are expected to come under more pressure in the Dáil this week after it emerged they were not made aware of the three memos which revealed CervicalCheck was developing responses to possible headlines that would read ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’.

The memos, which resulted in the departure of HSE boss Tony O’Brien, also stated that letters to the women affected would be “paused” and the order and volume of dispatch would be decided on to “mitigate potential risks”.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris is to bring a memo to Cabinet tomorrow to establish a board for the HSE.

He believes that there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the HSE and is bringing forward plans to strengthen the management, governance, and accountability of the organisation. 

These include the creation of a HSE board with a strong chair, the appointment of a new CEO, an examination of the current senior management within the HSE, and the development of an effective performance management and accountability system.

It comes as the PAC prepares to again question senior officials in the HSE, the department, and National Cancer Registry Ireland to find out who knew what and when.

Gabriel Scally has already been tasked with carrying out an independent scoping exercise into the scandal and will report back next month.

PAC member Alan Kelly said: “Ultimately, it can’t just be about one person so we need to know who was aware of what and when.”

Turning to Mr Harris, he said: “Not knowing is really not an excuse, he has to come out this week and reveal everything.

“If there are further revelations, if on Thursday in the PAC we find out more information that the minister wasn’t aware of, well then that would be deeply troubling for him and this Government.”

While Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the PAC is entitled to question officials, he said Dr Scally has been directed to uncover the facts. “Given the sensitivity of the matters, given the health and lives of women that are at the heart of this issue, [Dr Scally’s] work should be allowed to continue and that is where we are most likely to get the key facts and answers.”

Meanwhile, a Fermoy man has revealed that his late wife is one of the 17 women identified by the HSE as having died after a review found they were mistakenly given the all-clear for cancer.

Paul Dingivan has gone public to reveal that he has been told that a clear smear test result his wife Julie received in 2009 was found to be inaccurate following a review in September 2016 — but she was never told.

Julie was 36 years old when she died of cervical cancer in Marymount Hospice in April 2017.


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