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Minister must clarify why Department ignored expert advice on smear tests - Louise O'Reilly TD

3 April, 2019 - by Louise O'Reilly TD

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the Minister for Health and officials in the Department of Health must explain why they ignored the expert advice given by Dr Grainne Flannelly which she has alleges was relayed to the Department.

Teachta O’Reilly said:

“The CervicalCheck scandal and subsequent fallout has taken another turn with a submission to the Oireachtas Health Committee.

"The former head of the CervicalCheck programme, Dr Grainne Flannelly, alleges that she advised the Department of Health warning about the fallout of offering free out-of-cycle smear tests without sourcing additional capacity.

“Dr Flannelly’s submission outlines in detail her worries over the then idea of offering free out-of-cycle smear tests.

"She states that it would put pressure on GP's, that laboratories would not have sufficient capacity, that colposcopy services would not have sufficient capacity, and it would fundamentally undermine the screening programme.

“Dr. Flannelly relayed these concerns to the head of the HSE's national screening service, Charles O'Hanlon.

“Because the necessary plans weren’t made and the necessary resources, both human and financial, were not put in place, nearly every bit of concern relayed by Dr Flannelly to the Department of Health has been proven true.

“Given this advice was given by the then head of the CervicalCheck programme, the Department of Health and the Minister should have considered that advice very seriously.

“In the past number of months the Minister for Health has said he received no advice against offering free out of cycle smear tests and that no officials in his Department received such advice either.

“Indeed, in the Health Committee on 13th February of this year, the Secretary General of the Department of Health responded to my questioning that it was his “understanding that the Minister did not have contrary advice” in advance of his decision.

“Anne O’Connor of the HSE also stated at that meeting that the Minister was not given any advice on this from the HSE despite us now knowing that the head of the HSE’s national screening service provided contrary advice.

“On the 14th February the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, reiterated this stating to me during leaders’ questions that 'the Minister was not advised by his officials not to provide free out-of-cycle tests for women on a temporary basis in order to try to provide confidence and reassurance'.

“However, Dr Flannelly stated that when Mr O’Hanlon contacted the DOH after she had expressed her concerns to him and relayed those concerns that the Department response was to proceed with free smear tests in any case.

“There are serious questions that need to be answered by the Minister for Health and by the Department of Health - either people were advised, and that advice was discarded or buried, or the lines of communication in the Department of Health are not fit for purpose."

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