Minister wants accountability on cervical cancer scandal

Ireland's health minister says he wants to get to the bottom of 'who knew what, and when' about the cervical cancer screening scandal.

Simon Harris said he was 'disgusted' at what has emerged in health service memos.

His comments come after the resignation of the director general of Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE), Tony O'Brien.

Mr Harris said he has ordered a trawl of documents in the Health Department.

Q&A: Ireland's cervical cancer scandal

Mr O'Brien, who announced his departure on Thursday, had been under pressure to resign due to controversy over Ireland's cervical smear services.

Speaking to Irish national broadcaster RTÉ outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Harris said he wants full accountability and that he was 'disgusted' at what has emerged in memos released by the HSE.

The memos, dating back to 2016, were released yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee and discussed issues with cervical screening tests.

It has emerged that at least 208 women diagnosed with cancer should have received earlier intervention.

Detailed tests for CervicalCheck, which has operated for the past 10 years, usually take place every three years.

However, because of a backlog they were outsourced to an American company which normally carries out less detailed tests but does so every year to compensate.

The American company, however, continued to test Irish samples every three years.

The lower detection rate in the US laboratory was brought to the attention of the Republic of Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) but appears not to have been acted upon.

The Irish health minister, Simon Harris, said at the beginning of May that as many as 1,500 other cervical cancer tests had yet to be independently audited.

It is expected that Mr Harris will bring a number of measures to the cabinet to help the women and their families affected.

He will also appoint an interim director general of the HSE following the resignation of Mr O'Brien.

On Thursday, a woman from County Kerry said she would have to explain to her children that she is going to die after she was given a clear smear test in 2013 but was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016.

Mr O'Brien appeared before the Irish parliament's Public Accounts Committee on Thursday.

He said he had not been in a position to hear the woman's interview.

Later, announcing his resignation he said he had made his decision "in order to avoid any further impact to the delivery of health and social care services, and in particular the cancer screening services that have become the focus of intense political debate in recent days".

He added that there were clear communication failures surrounding the CervicalCheck audits, but that he is confident a review announced by the government last week "will demonstrate the quality and value of the CervicalCheck programme once it is complete".

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