Interim HSE head sorry for 'confusion and alarm' over cancer controversy

The Acting Director General of the HSE has apologised for the "confusion and alarm" which has been created in relation to the CervicalCheck programme, as a result of the failure to communicate with the women affected.

John Connaghan told the Oireachas Health Committee that the failure has ultimately impacted on every female in Ireland, their families, their spouses and their children.

He told the committee that in hindsight, the necessary actions as outlined in the open disclosure policy were not taken in a timely and effective manner.

He said CervicalCheck had started sending letters to treating doctors in February 2016 and all individuals briefed expected that women affected would be receiving information from their treating clinicians.

Mr Connaghan said that irrespective of the original, well-intentioned undertaking by the CervicalCheck programme to conduct an audit of cervical cancers and communicate the results to patients affected, both it and the HSE have failed by any measure.

Mr Connaghan said the language in the memos is very functional and somewhat lacking in empathy for the women who were to be communicated to.

He said that together with his colleagues, they would work to bring about changes to ensure it never happens again.

Officials from the Department of Health, HSE and CervicalCheck are appearing at the Oireachtas committee this morning.

The committee has heard that Patrick Lynch, the chairman of the HSE's Serious Incident Management Team who wassent in to investigate issues relating to CervicalCheck in recent weeks, was briefed on the audit issues in March 2016.

Secretary General at the Department of Health Jim Breslin defended the decision not to tell the Minister for Health that women were being informed that their smear tests had resulted in a false negative.

Responding to Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly, Mr Breslin said a judgement was made that the problem "wasn't of sufficient scale" and was being dealt with in an appropriate fashion that it did not need to be escalated.

He said in an organisation as large and complex as the HSE not all issues could be escalated to the minister.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan was asked by Mr Donnelly whether CervicalCheck was in compliance with the HSE's policy of open disclosure in the way it handled communications with the women affected.

Dr Holohan said he believed there was an "honest attempt" to comply with the open disclosure policy.

"It is true to say that CervicalCheck did not have its own specific policy in relation to open disclosure, perhaps that is one of the learnings that can be applied".

Dept of Health 'not aware' of non-disclosure

The Department of Health, meanwhile, has said there was no awareness on its partof the subsequent issue of widespread non-disclosure to patients of their audit results by consultants, to whom results had been issued by CervicalCheck.

The Departmentsaid it had no reason to believe the communication of results would not be accomplished.

Mr Connaghan said that the reason "pause all letters" was listed in the March 2016 briefing document, was that one laboratory,US firm Quest Diagnostics, had challenged the CervicalCheck programme communications process with treating clinicians and invoked a dispute resolution process, as provided for in their contract.

This was also why "await advice from solicitors"was also in the briefing note.

Mr Connaghan said the matter was resolved and the process of re-issuing letters to treating clinicians recommenced in June 2016.

Separately, Labour's Health Spokesperson has saidhe does not believe the Department of Health or the HSE are functional.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Alan Kelly said that the Department of Health needs to explain who knew what and when about the CervicalCheck programme, and why concerns were not communicated up the line.

He added that it was obvious, since 2013, that the Department of Health was well aware that the HSE was not practising its own policy of open disclosure.

Mr Kelly said he found Dr Gabriel Scally's email (which described the atmosphere around the investigation as fevered) as "disturbing"and said Dr Scally should not be "trying to pass over into parliamentary diplomacy".

He said he believed that functions of the committees will actually aid Dr Scally in his investigation.

Additional reporting Justin McCarthy

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