The director general of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, was called on to resign amid criticism of his mishandling of the cervical cancer screening scandal.
During leaders’ questions, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, referred to a story in yesterday’s Irish Examiner where Stephen Teap, husband of the late Irene who died last year, called on him to resign.
Mr Teap’s words echo the same sentiment and message as those of Vicky Phelan when she asked how Tony O’Brien has the neck to stay in his job,” she said.
The fact that the Taoiseach continues to back Mr O’Brien sends a very negative message to the victims of this scandal and the public more generally, Ms McDonald said: “People look on and see the old boys’ club that runs this state protected at all costs. The old boys’ club is protected even when the lives of women have been placed in the gravest of jeopardy by its members’ catastrophic failures.”
However, Ms McDonald went further in heaping pressure on Mr O’Brien. “Now, despite Mr O’Brien’s gross incompetence and his failures, the political establishment is seen to circle the wagons around him. Earlier the Taoiseach spoke of the feelings of hard-working staff within the HSE. The Taoiseach’s refusal to hold Mr O’Brien to account does them the gravest disservice of all.”
In response, Mr Varadkar said he had heard about Irene and Stephen Teap and their family. It is a very sad story and one which has affected everyone in the country, he said.
Indeed the Tánaiste met with and spoke to Mr Teap over the weekend to hear about his concerns, to talk to him and to hear what he has to say,” he said.
The Taoiseach echoed Health Minister Simon Harris’ anger at how this scandal has been mishandled: “I know that people are very annoyed about how this has been handled over the last few weeks, about the drip-drip of information and about the misinformation given on occasion. I assure the deputy that the Government and I feel exactly the same way.”
Mr Varadkar also said that part of what the Government is doing is ensuring that this clinical review is undertaken not just of the 208 women, but of all 1,400 who were part of the cervical screen audit.
“On Tuesday night, the minister for health announced that about 1,600 cases that had been notified to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland had not been notified on to CervicalCheck.
“Much work has been done in recent days to go through that.
“We can confirm that the vast majority of those 1,600 cases will not need to be part of the audit because, as we suspected at the time, many of those women did not have a smear test or had not had one for a very long period,” he said.