Health Chief Defends Call Not To Tell Minister Of False Negative Tests


An Oireachtas Committee has heard there was a clear failure to escalate the scale of the CervicalCheck scandal to HSE and Department of Health management.

Despite knowing an audit of cancer smear tests was underway, officials from both organisations say they were not aware of the scale of the problem.

They say CervicalCheck did not inform them women were not being given their audit results.

Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director for Health and Wellbeing with the HSE, says there were a number of mistakes made:

“None of the usual assurance mechanisms that you would have as a national director and a senior manager told me that there was a difficulty between the letters being issued and the communication to patients”.

The head of the Department of Health says no serious concerns were raised with him about CervicalCheck until very recently.

Documents have shown the Department and the HSE were aware of the review of false negative results of cancer smear tests.

However both organisations have told an Oireachtas committee they were not aware women were not being told the results of their audits in 2016.

HSE and Department of Health staff have appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Health.

The committee heard there was also a clear failure to escalate the issue within Cervical Check.

Interim head of the HSE, John Connaghan, apologised to the women affected by the scandal.

“It’s fair to say, in my opinion, the language in all the briefing notes is very functional and somewhat lacking in empathy for the women who were to be communicated to”.

As for who knew what in the Department of Health, chief medical officer Tony Holohan said it was legitimate not to escalate the problem to the minister or secretary-general in 2016.

“It was reasonable because the information provided to the department in briefing notes from the HSE was evidence to us, and interpreted as, ongoing improvements in how the service was being delivered – rather than the identification of problems”.