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Varadkar hits back over the response to cancer crisis

By Staff Reporter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the Irish government's response to the cervical cancer screening scandal amid heavy criticism.

Mr Varadkar insisted that action has been taken since the CervicalCheck storm broke.

He also revealed that the Irish government will seek to settle outstanding cervical cancer legal claims and pursue the labs for the costs afterwards.

Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly branded its reaction "shambolic" and asked: "How on earth were they caught so unprepared?"

Labour's Alan Kelly said the government "needs to take full control of this crisis and it has not yet done so".

The political crisis has already seen the boss of the Republic's Health Service Executive (HSE) Tony O'Brien quit.

Earlier this month, it emerged that an audit by the CervicalCheck screening programme of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in earlier smear tests in 209 of the cases, with results showing no abnormalities when they should have flagged a cancer warning.

While screening tests are not 100% accurate and there are acknowledged risks on the possibility of incorrect results, the fact the majority of the impacted patients were not told of the outcome of the audit has prompted a wave of public anger.

Of the 209 women, 17 have since died.

Mr Varadkar defended his government at a press conference following a specially convened Cabinet meeting.

He apologised to the women who had been affected and got emotional when asked what he would say to terminally-ill mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathuna. He said there are "no words that I can say that can give her comfort at this time".

A planned Cabinet meeting in Co Monaghan was postponed as ministers stayed in Dublin to discuss the crisis.

Mr Varadkar said the government first became aware of the issue 15 days ago and is "still only becoming aware of the facts".

He said actions taken included setting up a helpline for patients concerned about their smear tests and efforts to find and contact the 209 women who have been affected.

Six women are still to be tracked down and notified. He also said his government had set up a scoping inquiry ahead of a future statutory investigation and had commissioned a full review of more than 1,400 cases of people who were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Irish health minister Simon Harris outlined measures to support affected women and their families, including the provision of medical cards and covering the cost of drug treatments.

He said whatever resources are needed for the help being offered will be provided.

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