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Watch: Tony O'Brien posts video message telling HSE staff to 'remain focused'

Latest Tony O'Brien has posted a video bidding farewell to the staff of the HSE and telling them to "remain focused on the important work" they do.

This advice comes in the wake of what he called the "setback that the health service has experienced".

He said he was "extremely proud" of their work and commitment, saying it was "a vital part of what makes Ireland Ireland, it’s a vital part of our community structure".

In a video posted on the HSE's YouTube channel this evening, the former Director General said he was also proud of his own achievements while in charge.

"The HSE, the health services, our health service, delivered by people, by you for people in Ireland, our own families often," he said.

"What I do know, is that the work that you do, your work, your commitment, your care is a vital part of what makes Ireland, Ireland. It's a vital part of our community infrastructure and I want you to be really proud of everything that you do."

It was announced today that John Connaghan, the deputy general of the HSE, has been appointed as interim head of the organisation.

[h2]Harris announces package of supports for women affected by CervicalCheck scandal[/h2]

Update: 5.10pm A package of supports for women impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal including discretionary medical cards and travel and childcare expenses has been announced, writes Elaine Loughlin.

Government held a Cabinet meeting this morning to address the crisis which has impacted 209 women, 17 of whom have since died.

Health Minister Simon Harris has announced the cost of medicine including any "experimental drugs" prescribed by clinicians will be covered by the State.

Counselling services including bereavement counselling will be provided, while travel costs and childcare costs will also be paid for.

Cabinet have also signed off on the provision of discretionary medical card for all of the affected women or their next of kin in the 17 cases where women have already died.

The HSE will make arrangements to exempt the women from prescription charges.

Mr Harris said he wanted to allow "flexibility" in the supports provided "because every woman's circumstance will be different, every family circumstance will be different".

He said: "We have tried to make decisions today that are practical, we put a lot of processes in place that are now establishing facts and that's very important to establish who knew what, where and when.

[quote]But it's also about adopting a humane and compassionate approach to the women who have been adversely impacted or to their next of kin in instances where they have sadly passed away.[/quote]

However, Leo Varadkar confirmed that it may be several weeks before the supports are set up and offered to women. Each of the women or their families will be contacted to see what assistance they need.

The Taoiseach apologised to the women and their families and said Government shares their "determination" to find answers.

"As a Government it is our duty that we honour their bravery with action and we do all we can as quickly as we can to restore confidence and offer help and care and support to those affected," Mr Varadkar said.

[h2]Earlier: Government 'determined' to find the truth in CervicalCheck scandal, Taoiseach says[/h2]

Update: 3.45pm: Taoiseach Lao Varadkar has said the government is "determined" to find the truth in relation to the cervical cancer controversy.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Varadkar said that the health service should be about saving lives, and not saving face.

He reiterated his apology to the women affected by the scandal and said that Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna have done the State a service which they should never have been expected to do.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was disgusted with the information detailed in yesterday's memos, and that he wants full accountability in relation to the controversy.

A cabinet meeting was held today to discuss the fall-out of the CervicalCheck scandal and to decide what measures will be put in place to support the women impacted by it.

The cabinet has approved such a package this afternoon, as well as a mediation process which will allow the families already involved in legal cases connected to the scandal to settle outside of court.

The package will include providing discretionary medical cards, provision of counselling and covering the cost of drugs including experimental treatments.

It also announced that John Connaghan, the deputy general of the HSE, has been appointed as interim head of the organisation.

In a statement, Simon Harris said: “I have now designated John Connaghan to carry out the functions of the Director General of the HSE pending a recruitment process which is to be conducted by the Public Appointments Service.

"John brings a wealth of senior healthcare management experience at an international level. He will be a tremendous resource in leading the HSE in challenging times. I want to thank John for taking on this interim role.”

Mr Connaghan joined the HSE last August as the Deputy Director General and Chief Operating Officer having previously worked for NHS Scotland.

[h2]Earlier: Senior Department of Health officials under pressure over CervicalCheck scandal[/h2]

Update - 12.45pm: Pressure is now mounting on senior Department of Health officials to reveal why they did not inform the Minister of Health about the smear check controversy back in 2016, writes Elaine Loughlin.

It has been revealed that three memos were sent to officials, including Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, two years ago which revealed that CervicalCheck were preparing a response to possible media headlines of "screening did not diagnose my cancer".

However, neither Leo Varadkar who was Health Minister when the first memo was sent, nor Simon Harris were informed of the issue.

The memos also stated that it had been decided to "pause" letters informing patients and the order or volume of dispatch would be based on "mitigating potential risks".

HSE director Tony O'Brien, who was also sent the 2016 memos, announced he would be stepping down just hours after the documents were released.

HSE director Tony O'Brien

Ministers are currently holding a Cabinet meeting to discuss the fall-out of the CervicalCheck scandal and what measures must now be put in place to support women impacted by it.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said it is now critically important to find out who knew what and why information was not passed on to the Minister.

[quote]We need to find out if information was kept from Ministers why that information was kept from Ministers but more importantly why those Ministers themselves are not insisting that all information that is relevant comes across their desk.[/quote]

"When an issue like this emerges it should be brought to the attention of the relevant Minister of Health.

"This was a very very serious case and it strikes me that the strategy emanating from the Department of Health and echoed by the HSE was one of batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, keep the information from the women first and foremost."

Speaking outside Leinster House, Ms O'Reilly said:

[quote]What we have seen in the last couple of days is proof, not that we needed it, that women should not have to take to the airwaves to get justice.[/quote]

She said it was "regrettable" that it had taken such a serious scandal to prompt a discussion around accountability in the public service and State bodies.

Earlier: ‘No hiding place’ in search for truth over CervicalCheck scandal, says Minister

Update - 12.20pm: Health minister Simon Harris has warned officials there will be no hiding place in the quest to find the truth around a deepening cervical smear test controversy.

Mr Harris said recent revelations that 209 cancer patients had previously received wrongly-interpreted all-clear smear results had devastated the country.

Ahead of a Cabinet meeting, Mr Harris said: “I want to assure the public that I am equally furious about what is emerging and there will be nowhere to hide, there will be accountability.”

Emma Mhic Mhathuna, 37, from Co Kerry, revealed on Thursday that she had now been diagnosed with terminal cancer, five years after being told her smear tests were normal.

She also said today that she has referred her case to the gardaí.

Stephen Teap, from Co Cork, has expressed his anger that his wife Irene died without ever knowing that her smear tests had been wrongly interpreted.

“I think the whole country is devastated, shocked, upset and hurt,” said Mr Harris.

“People like Emma and Vicky, people like Stephen Teap and others who have told their story, they really have touched a nerve with all of us.

“But what they need is not platitudes, they need actions, and I am determined we are going to deliver those actions.”

“The Cabinet is holding a special meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin on Friday to agree a package of measures, such as drug and treatment costs, to support those affected by the errors.

It comes hours after HSE director general Tony O’Brien quit.

Mr Harris said the Government needed to demonstrate that it cared about the impacted women and the next of kin of those patients who have since died.

There are 10 legal challenges similar to Ms Phelan’s in the pipeline. Mr Harris said he would take steps to ensure those women would not have to go to court to get answers.

“I don’t want any of them to go to court,” he said.

The minister said he would appoint a new director general of the HSE later on Friday and also move next week to introduce more accountability within the organisation.

[quote]"There is no place to hide here, all of the facts need to be established and all of the facts will be established,” he said.[/quote]

“There will be and must accountability and answers here for the women of Ireland and I am absolutely determined in relation to that.”

11.05am: 'More heads will have to roll,' says Vicky PhelanVicky Phelan has said that "more accountability needs to come", after hearing of the resignation of the HSE's Director General Tony O'Brien.

Vicky told Richard Curran on RTE Radio 1's Today programme this morning that she had a phone call from Minister Simon Harris this morning outlining the steps he is putting in place to deal with the CervicalCheck scandal.

She said: "More heads will have to roll".

On the memos that have come to light, Vicky said that she was not surprised by the tone, saying: "They were more worried about themselves and being sued than about me as a patient'.

[quote]These memos are even more damning...containment and media management was the priority not the women.[/quote]

Mr O'Brien tweeted this morning, saying: "When I appear in public - say at a Committee I conduct myself against a simple standard. Would I be happy for my children or my mother to see how I behave? I sometimes look across the room and hope their children will never see and hear how they behave."

Ms Phelan said: "His tweet smacks of someone used to getting his own way, throwing ones toys out of the pram springs to mind.

"So, the issues that were being raised concerned the cover-up and the lack of absolute regard for the women caught up in this scandal, and his use of the word hysteria really sent me over the edge yesterday when I heard that.

She wondered if someone could take him aside now and tell him that this is not about him, saying "not by a long shot, this was never about him but he doesn't seem to realise that".

Ms Phelan said she feels that Emma Mhic Mhathuna's interview yesterday on Morning Ireland is what sent him over the edge.

She revealed that the interview made her "very angry", and that her interview was "very raw" as this news was very new to her while Vicky had time to process her diagnosis out of the public eye.

Update - 8.50am: Vicky Phelan's solicitor says an apology from one of the US labs at the centre of the CervicalCheck controversy is too little too late.

The scandal has forced the head of the HSE Tony O'Brien to step down admitting that there were failures in telling women about incorrect smear test results.

In a statement, Clinical Pathology Laboratories said what happened to Vicky Phelan and her family was tragic and that it deeply regrets the outcome.

They said that they hope the settlement reached will allow Ms Phelan to gain additional treatment and an improved prognosis and quality of life.

They revealed that the screenings were performed through manual examinations of individual slides, without the benefit of computer-based imaging and a separate HPV test.

The company said it was performed to the highest quality standards but, despite this, it is internationally recognised that no screening program is 100% effective and all have an inherent margin for error.

CPL said the results of cervical cancer screens conducted by its lab, and the other one in the US as well as the two Irish laboratories, are well above the accepted accuracy rate for the type of screening specified by the HSE and have been continuously monitored and repeatedly endorsed by Irish health authorities and US agencies.

However, her solicitor Cian O’Carroll says the apology is not accepted.

Mr O'Carroll said: "Perhaps if it was offered at the appropriate time, which would have been three or more weeks ago, it might have had a little more credibility.

"They've also failed to comment on, acknowledge or apologise for the appaling hurt they caused by attempting to force a confidentiality clause on Vicky Phelan and forcing her on with the trial in court, so no it isn't acceptable."

On The Tonight Show last night on TV3, Emma Mhic Mhathúna welcomed Tony O’Brien's resignation.

Emma said: “The sense of joy is incalculable.

"It's long overdue and it's a disgrace that I had to break down for that to happen."

6.38am: Cabinet to consider more action over CervicalCheck scandal on Tony O'Brien's last day as HSE chief

Today will be Tony O'Brien's last day as head of the HSE.

Mr O'Brien has confirmed he will resign as Director General in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Anger peaked around Leinster House last night with two Ministers openly calling for Mr O'Brien to go after documents showed HSE management were preparing media strategies in case this came to light two years ago.

Mr O'Brien has been put through the wringer by politicians this week, and admitted the scandal has hit him.

He said: "Given that I started my own career in the public service, in BreastCheck, the recent events are indeed a personal blow to me."

In his departing statement Tony O'Brien said he will step down as of close of business today to avoid any further impact on the health service.

Mr O'Brien will step down at the close of business tomorrow "in order to avoid any further impact to the delivery of health and social care services, in particular the cancer screening services that have become the focus of intense political debate in recent days".

He admitted there were clear communication failures when it comes to telling women about the false negatives on their smear tests.

However, Mr O'Brien said he is confident planned reviews will prove the worth of CervicalCheck.

He said that "notwithstanding the clear communication failures surrounding the CervicalCheck Audits", he is "confident that the Scally Review will demonstrate the quality and value of the CervicalCheck Programme once it is complete".

Mr O'Brien said he looks forward to co-operating and engaging with the review.

The statement said that Mr O’Brien "has been proud to lead the health services and the many staff who have worked tirelessly and with great dedication to provide health and social care services in a very challenging environment.

It states that he "remains deeply committed to health reform in Ireland and in particular the full implementation of the Slainte Care Report" and retains his "fullest support for Minister Harris in this regard".

The Cabinet will consider if there should be any further responses at a meeting this morning.

- Digital Desk