Simon Harris: CervicalCheck staff ‘subjected to abuse’

Health Minister Simon Harris has acknowledged the abuse and stress staff running CervicalCheck were subjected to in the wake of the controversy that rocked the national screening programme.

Simon Harris: CervicalCheck staff ‘subjected to abuse’

Health Minister Simon Harris has acknowledged the abuse and stress staff running CervicalCheck were subjected to in the wake of the controversy that rocked the national screening programme.

Mr Harris was responding to reports in yesterday’s Irish Examiner that a number of key staff had resigned and that others were out on stress leave as a result of highly personalised abuse directed at staff running the service.

Nóirín Russell, the lead colposcopist of the Kerry Colposcopy Service, told the Irish Examiner that the 15 clinicians running the country’s colposcopy clinics — where women with suspected smear test abnormalities are referred for further investigation — were considering quitting because of the toxic environment they are now working in and the lack of support.

Mr Harris said Dr Russell had outlined “the reality” of what was a very stressful period for healthcare professionals.

He said he had visited the offices of CervicalCheck in Limerick in recent weeks “and there is no doubt they have been operating under huge pressure”.

“Indeed, many of them have been subjected to abuse,” said Mr Harris.

These are people who get up every day and work to save lives.

He said that while the CervicalCheck debacle — the failure to disclose audits to women or the findings of those audits — had caused “massive pain and hurt to people right across the country” it had also “caused a lot of hurt and pain to people working in the health service”.

“It was a very difficult time, perhaps a very frenzied time, and I’ll certainly be reflecting on the role of the political system in that regard as well,” Mr Harris said. “I think we have a duty now, that we have to support our clinicians.”

He said he hoped the Government’s new patient safety bill, published yesterday, will prevent the type of non-disclosure that occurred within CervicalCheck. The bill will make disclosure mandatory.

Mr Harris said he will also be bringing forward an amendment to the bill to increase the powers of the minister for health of the day to carry out investigations when things go wrong.

Separately, Ciarán Ó Riain, a surgical pathologist with a specialist interest in gynaecological cancer, writes in today’s Irish Examiner that we need, as a society “to honestly address how we balance individual rights to legal action against the population benefits of an imperfect but effective high-quality screening system that simply cannot function in the face of multiple costly legal actions”.

Dr Ó Riain said there are more than 100 legal cases against the national cervical screening system.

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