Varadkar hits out at ‘absence of care’ for women

Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris

The Taoiseach has hit out at the “absence of any concern or care” from CervicalCheck to women kept in the dark over smear screening audits.

Leo Varadkar said it was clear from memos sent in 2016 that there was little regard for the 209 women diagnosed with cancer who were not told their audited smear checks revealed false negatives.

It comes as the Department of Health published another tranche of documents, including memos between the Department of Health and HSE at an official level, minutes of meetings of officials of the HSE and Department of Health, and emails between various officials.

Mr Varadkar was pressed in the Dáil over what he knew about the smear check scandal and grilled on the fact that memos detailing the controversy were not passed up to the health minister.

Under questioning from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach said: “What I see when I look at those documents is the absence of concern for patients. I can understand why CervicalCheck, officials of a previous department of mine or anyone, would be concerned about damage to the programme because that is now what has happened.

We have a big concern that women may not go for smears now because of the damage that has been done to confidence in screenings. I can understand why they had a concern for reputational damage to CervicalCheck because CervicalCheck saves lives but what I do not understand is the absence of any concern or care for the women and their families who were going to find out about this in the way they have.

Separately, Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly called for measures to prevent patients like Vicky Phelan from being dragged through the courts including a no-fault compensation system.

Noting the State has an estimated liability of €1.98bn for claims, she stated: “Families are being dragged through the courts. If a family does not have the funds it cannot do this because they have to pay for their own experts’ reports. Of the 244 cases that were settled in 2016, only five cases went to court.

There are measures in the Taoiseach’s programme for Government which, if they were enacted, would transform the situation.

Mr Varadakar agreed a “suite of measures” is now required to address issues highlighted, again, through the CervicalCheck scandal: “If we genuinely want to put women, and patients in general, first then we should look for solutions and ask what we can actually do to improve this situation that has gone on for decades.”

He said the Government has already put a number of measures in place including the Mediation Act 2017 which saw a number of recent cases settled by mediation. But he added there are two “major outstanding issues”, the first relating to mandatory reporting which Government hopes to pass in the coming months.

“I have also initiated the establishment of a working group to look at alternative means of settling medical negligence cases, in including the no-fault system,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

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