Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar apologises for ‘disrespect and deceit’ over CervicalCheck scandal

Members of the group 221+, set up for the women affected by the scandal, watched from the Dail gallery.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

The Irish premier has apologised to the women and families who suffered from a “litany of failures” in the cervical screening scandal.

Addressing the Dail, the Taoiseach apologised for the “humiliation, disrespect and deceit” caused to the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy.

He spoke as members of the advocacy group 221+, set up for the women affected by the scandal, watched from the Dail gallery.

On behalf of the state, I apologise to the women and their loved ones who suffered from a litany of failures in how cervical screening in our country operated over many years Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar said: “On behalf of the state, I apologise to the women and their loved ones who suffered from a litany of failures in how cervical screening in our country operated over many years.

“I do so having met and listened to many of those affected, and I do so guided by the Scally Inquiry report.

“Today we say sorry to those whose lives were shattered, those whose lives were destroyed, and those whose lives could have been different.

“We know that cervical screening programmes cannot detect all cancers, however we acknowledge the many failures that have taken place.

“We are sorry for failures of clinical governance, failures of leadership and management, failure to tell the whole truth and do so in a timely manner, the humiliation, disrespect and deceit, the false reassurance and the attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle.”

Health expert Dr Gabriel Scally, who led an inquiry into the scandal, said that a state apology is “a momentous step and quite unprecedented”.

The review into CervicalCheck last year identified at least 221 women diagnosed with cervical cancer who were not previously told about misreported smear tests, and could have been alerted to the early stages of cancer.

Mr Varadkar also apologised to those who survived and “still bear the scars, both physically and mentally”.

We apologise to those who are here in our presence. To those watching from home who have kept it to themselves. We apologise to those passed on and who cannot be here Leo Varadkar

“We apologise to those who are here in our presence. To those watching from home who have kept it to themselves. We apologise to those passed on and who cannot be here,” he added.

“We acknowledge the failure that took place with CervicalCheck.

“Today’s apology is too late for some who were affected. For others it will never be enough.

“Today’s apology is offered to all the people the state let down and to the families who paid the price for those failings.

“A broken service, broken promises, broken lives – a debacle that left a country heartbroken. A system that was doomed to fail.”

Dr Scally found there were serious gaps in the governance structures of the CervicalCheck screening services.

The scandal emerged last year after campaigner Vicky Phelan took legal action.

Ms Phelan, from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for 2.5 million euro (£2.2 million) after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

The crisis sparked anger across the country and led to a number of independent reports.

Ms Phelan was joined by campaigners Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh in the Dail gallery.

“What happened to so many women and families should not have happened,” Mr Varadkar added.

“While every case was not negligence, every case was a lost opportunity for an earlier diagnosis and treatment.

“It was a failure of our health service, state, its agencies, systems and culture.

“We’ve found out the truth and the facts.

“We’re making changes to put things right. We need to restore trust and repair relationships.

“On behalf of the Government and the state, I am sorry it happened. And I apologise to all those hurt or wronged. We vow to make sure it never happens again.”

In addition to this apology there needs to be real reform of the screening programme Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Opposition leader Micheal Martin said that the independent reports show there was an “aversion” to open and full disclosure.

He said that women were given incorrect information, often after another serious delay.

“For many the information they were given was still inaccurate,” Mr Martin added.

“The paternalistic approach of deciding what women could be allowed to know about their own health was demonstrated at important moments – with vital results often only supplied to GPs with no intention to inform the women involved.

“The reports also pointed to the central lack of proper corporate governance within the HSE (Health Service Executive).

“The replacement of the HSE’s independent board by a direct report into the minister’s office was an enormous error and underpinned a culture where there was no one focusing on general oversight.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the Taoiseach’s apology.

She said that women and their families were “dragged” through the courts to access their vital information.

“Unfortunately delays and obstruction were the overriding themes,” she added.

“Unfortunately, and I hope I am wrong, that some of the lessons have still gone unlearned because beyond this apology the Government must fix the system,.

“In addition to this apology there needs to be real reform of the screening programme.

“We must see recommendations implemented. Words are hollow without actions to back them up.

“Without putting in place the recommendations, this could happen again. A real and tangible apology consists of words and actions.”

Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris issued a personal apology, saying it was a difficult day for the women and their families.

“Something that really stayed with me from the Scally report was his finding that many women wanted ‘someone who was involved to say sorry and to mean it’,” he added.

“I hope that all those affected, whether you are here with us in the Oireachtas or at home, can finish this day in no doubt that the state apology offered to you is genuine and I hope it brings some healing.

“It’s one thing to stand here and apologise for others, it’s easy for me to apologise to others, I want to personally apologise to the women impacted as well, for the times where I gave commitments that were heartfelt and genuine but were harder to follow through on.

“I want to apologise for the times I had to come into this House and give partial information because that was all we had available.”

PA

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