Fianna Fáil 'taken aback' at Simon Harris' comments on CervicalCheck team

Simon Harris
By Elaine Loughlin
Political Correspondent

The Taoiseach has been forced to defend the Minister for Health after he was accused of trying to "destroy the reputation" of the CervicalCheck team.

As 78,000 women continue to wait 27 weeks for smear test results, Leo Varadkar defended a decision made last year to provide free out-of-cycle checks to all women.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he had been "taken aback" by an attack on staff in the screening service which Simon Harris launched in a radio interview over the weekend.

"The degree to which the Minister dumped on the team last Saturday morning and attempted to destroy its reputation is unacceptable and mean-spirited. One cannot destroy the reputation and work of people who have committed to the programme for more than a decade. Many people in the medical world are dismayed at the cavalier dismissal of people who have worked in the field for a considerable time," said Mr Martin.

While Mr Varadkar acknowledged the work done by the cancer screening programme, he said they "also made a lot of mistakes” including carrying out a “botched audit, which had significant retrospection bias and then (they) did not share information about the audit with the women affected”.

Mr Varadkar refused to provide a date for the rollout of a new HPV test as he said promises had been made in the past but not met.

Separately the Taoiseach said the Government will consider an independent inquiry to investigate failings in children's audiology services.

The HSE has been forced to apologise to around 60 families in the west of Ireland for failing to provide proper services to children with hearing difficulties.

During leaders questions, the Taoiseach laid the blame for the mistakes on the medical staff after Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald suggested that Fianna Fáil is happy to allow the Minister for Health and the Government to "evade accountability for the many failures in our services".

But Mr Varadkar said the clinician who carried out the hearing tests and either failed to diagnose, or to ensure that the children got the proper follow up, was "very obviously" responsible.

He said Ms McDonald was trying to turn the issue into a political attack but this "is not about Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or Micheál Martin or Simon Harris" and instead it was about the clinician involved.

The problem was identified internally. The HSE assistant clinical lead for audiology services identified the problem and acted on it and I understand the people who made the mistakes are no longer working for our public health service and there are appropriate professional bodies that register people and can sanction them and strike them off," the Taoiseach said.

Solidarity-PBP TD Bríd Smith questioned the Taoiseach on the Government's record around climate change and urged him to ban the further issuing of fossil fuel exploration licences off our shores.

But Mr Varadkar said: "The truth is that we will need natural gas and oil as transition fuels for the foreseeable future, whether to fuel aircraft so that they can fly, to produce plastics necessary for medical devices, or to power our towns, cities and industries when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining."

He added that Minister Richard Bruton would soon publish an action plan on climate change.

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