Thirty five of the country’s top health officials need to be removed from their posts while an inquiry takes place into the smear tests scandal, terminally ill mother Vicky Phelan has said.
Ms Phelan and the widower of Irene Teap demanded the move last night as Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan insisted that the failure to tell women about concerns over test results in 2016 was “fair and reasonable” before a crunch Dáil session this morning.
Speaking during a specially arranged Public Accounts Committee meeting, Limerick mother Ms Phelan and Cork father Stephen Teap insisted people need to be removed “in the same way as [ex-HSE director general] Tony O’Brien”.
Asked by Labour TD Alan Kelly about the fact 122 pages of documents released by the department on Tuesday show 35 HSE and department officials — including Dr Holohan — knew about the situation in 2016, both Ms Phelan and Mr Teap said they must be “stood down” while an inquiry takes place.
During the same PAC meeting yesterday evening, Ms Phelan and Mr Teap said they believed there has been an orchestrated “cover-up” , and that a culture of “deny” has overtaken patient care.
While insisting that she is looking for accountability “not revenge”, Ms Phelan said, “if I die I do not want it to be in vain”, and joined Mr Teap in calling for a “random” audit of all CervicalCheck smear tests over the past decade to find out if more than 209 women have been affected.
The demand was made as calls continue for Dr Holohan and others to step aside while an inquiry takes place.
Although Dr Holohan told yesterday’s health committee it was “fair and reasonable” not to tell women about incorrect smear tests in 2016, one Government minister backed calls for Dr Holohan to resign, saying his position is becoming “untenable”.
Interim HSE director general John Connaghan said: “Irrespective of the original, well intentioned undertaking by the CervicalCheck programme to conduct an audit of invasive cervical cancers and to communicate the results to patients affected, the organisation in that respect, both CervicalCheck and the HSE, have failed by any measure.”
The questions over officials’ futures are certain to dominate this morning’s PAC meeting with HSE and department officials over the crisis, with a number of PAC members telling Ms Phelan and Mr Teap they will raise the matter directly with those involved.
Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins held a private meeting with cervical cancer victim Emma Mhic Mhathúna in Co Kerry yesterday, after the terminally ill woman made a heart-breaking plea for him to intervene on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland last week.
Ms Mhic Mhathúna last night publicly thanked Mr Higgins for the meeting, saying “it gave some comfort to my children to know he’s on their side”.
In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday questioned whether a decision to stop the introduction of mandatory open disclosure in 2016 was linked to what happened.However, Education Minister Richard Bruton, standing in for Mr Varadkar, rejected the claim, saying “there can be no link because no information [on the cervical cancer tests] was made available to the ministers concerned” at the time.
By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Evelyn Ring, and Elaine Loughlin – Irish Examiner