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Latest: Government ministers decline to express confidence in medical officer after CervicalCheck scandal

Update 1.05pm: Two senior government ministers have declined to express their confidence in the State’s Chief Medical Officer in light of the cervical cancer scandal.

Dr Tony Holohan received memos in 2016 showing CervicalCheck had prepared a response for media stories about screenings not diagnosing cancer.

An independent review into the controversy is underway.

Ministers Richard Bruton and Katherine Zappone said they’re not going to say anything about Dr Holohan until the review is finished.

"I think the position is we have to wait and see what the evidence that comes form the inquiry that is being set by Dr Scally," Mr Bruton said.

"I agree with Minister Bruton that I think we need to wait to hear the detail of what happened in terms of the information provided and the way that it was responded to, so I am going to wait," Ms Zappone said.

[h2]Earlier: Blogger 'numb' and 'angry' after mother one of 17 who died of cervical cancer[/h2]

Update 8am: A Dublin-based blogger has shared the story of her mother Catherine Reck who is one of the 17 women who have died of cervical cancer despite receiving a negative smear test result.

Grace Rattigan, who runs the blog Frilly Flossy, posted a statement on behalf of their family to her Facebook page.

209 women with cervical cancer had information withheld from them in relation to false negative smear test results, of which 17 have died.

Grace says her mother Catherine had a routine smear test in November 2010 and the results showed low-grade abnormalities, or pre-cancerous cells. She was told to wait six months for a retest, which is normal procedure, but she began having irregular bleeding for which she subsequently visited her GP in April 2011.

The GP is then said to have written to Tallaght Hospital, and Catherine was called for a colposcopy on August 11, 2011.

Grace says her mam was told "there and then that they were highly confident it was Cervical Cancer and would do a Biopsy which confirmed Catherine had Stage 3 Cervical Cancer and so our nightmare began".

File photo

After eight "harrowing months" Catherine passed away on April 13th, 2012 aged 48.

Grace goes on to say that the recent audit showed that Catherine's smear test results from November 2010 were incorrectly reported and that she required immediate attention.

"We feel as though we are starting our grieving process all over again. It feels like a wound has been ripped open, the sadness and anger is palpable," Grace says.

Grace says that when they sat down with Catherine's doctor, he informed them that "they were made aware of the discrepancies in Catherine’s smear test result in 2016".

[quote]The Doctor stated that they had followed instruction on a letter from Cervical Check. The instructions read: 'In the cases where a woman has died, simply ensure the result is recorded in the woman’s notes'.[/quote]

Grace writes that once the CervicalCheck controversy began to emerge, Catherine’s next-of-kin and husband, Paul, phoned them to ask if their family were affected.

"He has since got several automated texts addressing him as if he was a woman concerned about their own smear results, not the widow of one of the women," she says.

"The doctor then phoned Paul last Friday night at 19.00 to tell him we were affected no other real detail and arranged for us to come in (the following Tuesday)."

"We are numb, we are angry; we have been brought back to the start of a long and difficult grieving process. This changes everything, all of the “what if’s” suddenly feel different," she says.

[quote]To learn this could have potentially been avoided, it now feels like Catherine’s life and her positive impact on our lives was stolen.[/quote]

"Every milestone we have passed without her through cloudy eyes and heavy hearts now feel like an extension of this sense of being 'robbed'.

"We are ready to fight this. We are not calling for heads to roll. We won’t be causing undue panic or concern on the system. We want answers for Catherine, her family (us) and the other women and families who have been failed. We want accountability.

[quote]Above all else we want change. We never want this to happen to any woman or her family in this country again.[/quote]

You can read the full post here:

Digital Desk

Earlier: Top health officials face PAC grilling

By Elaine Loughlin

Update 7.53am: Senior health officials are to be grilled to establish who knew what and when about damning CervicalCheck memos.

As the cervical screening scandal rumbles on, Department of Health chief medical officer Tony Holohan, interim HSE director John Connaghan, and officials who wrote the 2016 memos are to be hauled before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Department of Health chief medical officer Tony Holohan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris are expected to come under more pressure in the Dáil this week after it emerged they were not made aware of the three memos which revealed CervicalCheck was developing responses to possible headlines that would read ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’.

The memos, which resulted in the departure of HSE boss Tony O’Brien, also stated that letters to the women affected would be “paused” and the order and volume of dispatch would be decided on to “mitigate potential risks”.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris is to bring a memo to Cabinet tomorrow to establish a board for the HSE.

He believes that there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the HSE and is bringing forward plans to strengthen the management, governance, and accountability of the organisation.

These include the creation of a HSE board with a strong chair, the appointment of a new CEO, an examination of the current senior management within the HSE, and the development of an effective performance management and accountability system.

It comes as the PAC prepares to again question senior officials in the HSE, the department, and National Cancer Registry Ireland to find out who knew what and when.

Gabriel Scally has already been tasked with carrying out an independent scoping exercise into the scandal and will report back next month.

PAC member Alan Kelly said:

[quote]Ultimately, it can’t just be about one person so we need to know who was aware of what and when.[/quote]

Turning to Mr Harris, he said: “Not knowing is really not an excuse, he has to come out this week and reveal everything.

“If there are further revelations, if on Thursday in the PAC we find out more information that the minister wasn’t aware of, well then that would be deeply troubling for him and this Government.”

While Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the PAC is entitled to question officials, he said Dr Scally has been directed to uncover the facts.

[quote]Given the sensitivity of the matters, given the health and lives of women that are at the heart of this issue, [Dr Scally’s] work should be allowed to continue and that is where we are most likely to get the key facts and answers.[/quote]

Meanwhile, a Fermoy man has revealed that his late wife is one of the 17 women identified by the HSE as having died after a review found they were mistakenly given the all-clear for cancer.

Paul Dingivan has gone public to reveal that he has been told that a clear smear test result his wife Julie received in 2009 was found to be inaccurate following a review in September 2016 — but she was never told.

Julie was 36 years old when she died of cervical cancer in Marymount Hospice in April 2017.

Earlier: Call for further clarity over cervical screening labs

Update 6.52am: There has been a call for further clarity over the laboratories used for cervical screening tests.

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry says questions need to be answered about the use of third-party testing facilities to clear backlogs.

He wants to know if it happens, how it works, and whether the Health Minister knows about it.

"There are issues here in terms of traceability, not that we're trying to create any further worry for the women of Ireland," he said.

[quote]I think there are answers the the GPs require and the women require so they know exactly where their test is being done, what accreditation is associated with it, and that the a pathologist signing off on it have first-hand knowledge of the assessment of same.[/quote]

Digital Desk