Belfast Telegraph

Treatment of leading patient advocate ‘appalling’

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan accused Lorraine Walsh of making a ‘defamatory and untrue’ statement.

Lorraine Walsh, who received an incorrect smear test, was sent the letter by CMO (PA)
Lorraine Walsh, who received an incorrect smear test, was sent the letter by CMO (PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

A Labour TD has slammed the “appalling” treatment of one of the victims of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening scandal.

Leading patient advocate Lorraine Walsh, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer after previously receiving inaccurate test results, clashed with the most senior Government health adviser in a series of newly released letters.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan accused Ms Walsh of making a “defamatory and untrue” statement after she allegedly criticised him over the controversy.

In a letter from the Department of Health sent on March 13 this year, Dr Holohan warned Ms Walsh that if any of her allegations are published, she should “anticipate a very strong response”.

He also said: “You have also issued tweets in which you have made baseless allegations against me which are at variance with the facts.

“I would ask you to acknowledge by return this correspondence, withdraw allegations made in your tweets of yesterday, March 12, and that you refrain from making further baseless allegations in respect of me and my role.”

Dr Holohan goes on to invite Ms Walsh for a mediated discussion before their next meeting of the CervicalCheck Steering Group.

The Galway woman is one of the more than 200 women affected by failures in the CervicalCheck screening system.

It emerged last year that 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

The correspondence was released under the Freedom of Information following a request by Labour health spokesperson Alan Kelly and RTE.

Mr Kelly called for Health Minister Simon Harris to explain the “appalling treatment” of Ms Walsh.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Mr Harris was not aware of the letter in advance of it being sent to Ms Walsh.

“The Minister accepts the context as outlined in the Freedom of Information request,” the spokeswoman added.

“The Minister is in regular contact with the patient advocates and believes it is vital we support them and ensure their input is valued and respected, as does the Department of Health.

“He, the Chief Medical Officer and the patient advocates are united in their goal of effectively eradicating cervical cancer within a generation.”

Mr Kelly said: “Correspondence released to me between the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), and patient advocate Lorraine Walsh shows the toxic atmosphere that has existed between officials and those who have sought answers on the Cervical Check scandal.

”The documents show that the Chief Medical Officer accused Ms Walsh of making ‘a defamatory and untrue statement’ and all but threatened legal action against a patient advocate who has sought answers and accountability for what happened to women across Ireland.

“The CMO then sought mediation to resolve the dispute.

“The FOI release of correspondence indicates no further efforts have been made to address this issue.

“This evidence released today confirms a dysfunctional attitude within the department towards those who have sought answers, and worked to ensure the Cervical Check issue is not repeated.

”For the first time in my experience, the FOI decision letter also seeks to provide an explanation from the department for the content of the documents being released.

“I am really surprised that the Minister for Health dragged his feet for so long on releasing this information but the contents help explain this.

“The Minister should also tell us what he knows about this dispute, and if he agrees with his CMO, when did he find out and does he agree with the findings by Scally about the treatment of patient reps.”

The Green Party health spokesman Dr Seamus McMenamin said: “The CervicalCheck scandal has been characterised from the start by poor communication – between different sections of the HSE, between the HSE and the Department of Health and most importantly between CervicalCheck and the women affected.

“Minister Harris appointed Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap as patient representatives to the CervicalCheck Steering committee to represent patients and to question the status quo. He must now urgently clarify if this was window dressing or if he intends them to be allowed to continue in this role.”

PA

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