Sinn Féin expresses ‘concern, disappointment and alarm’ at Government legislation for Cervical Check legacy

Party is understood to be planning an intervention in the Dáil on Tuesday

Sinn Féin has made a new attack on Government attempts to legislate for the legacy of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Health spokesman David Cullinane has written to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly this morning expressing “concern, disappointment and alarm” at amendments to the Patient Safety Bill.

The relevant part of the Bill is designed to address the “duty of candour” around what is termed a “notifiable incident” – such as the misreading of a sample, which was at the core of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Mr Cullinane argued the duty of candour created by the Bill departs significantly from recommendations made by Dr Gabriel Scally in his review of the CervicalCheck programme following the controversy.

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He wrote to Mr Donnelly saying the Bill as it is currently constituted does not “pass the Vicky Phelan test, one which would have placed an obligation on the screening service in the first instance, and on her consultant in the second, to inform her immediately of the discovery of discordant readings”.

He argues in the letter that the amendment “fails that test because it places all of the burden of responsibility on the patient. It requires a patient to make a request for a ‘Part 5 review’ but no obligation on the service or a clinician to make the patient aware of a mistake except as part of a Part 5 review”.

“In almost all, if not all, of the CervicalCheck cases, a request did not come from the patient for a review because the patient had no reason to believe there was an error since they had not been informed of the error,” he wrote, charging that the amendment introduced at committee stage “gives a green light to any health services provider, from a legal standpoint, to keep a mistake secret from a patient except and until the patient asks for a review”.

He said proceeding with the Bill is “insensitive and ill-advised”.

“It is incumbent on you as the Minister for Health to ensure that whatever Bill is passed, it deals with the fundamental issues which arose in the CervicalCheck Scandal making use of any and all mechanisms available to you. This Bill as it stands would not do this.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald raised the issue in the Dáil and said Taoiseach Micheál Martin had reiterated a pledge on full open disclosure, at the time of campaigner Vicky Phelan’s death.

She said there Minister for Health had tabled 50 separate amendments “but the one amendment that we need to see to prescribe in law, the absolute obligation for full open disclosure, is not there”.

Ms McDonald said “the legislation means that where a discordant or erroneous, or incorrect cancer screening will become a notifiable incident, but the duty of candour is not there”.

She said it “would still fall to the woman to require a review. This is outrageous, absolutely outrageous, and totally unacceptable.”

But replying for the Government, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath stressed that “it will be mandatory to disclose the results of these reviews to women”.

He said it was important “not to confuse clinical audits with patient requested reviews. They are different.”

The Minister said “a new patient requested review process has been developed for screening following the guidelines from the expert group and designed in conjunction with patients including the 221 Plus group.

“Just to put on the record it will be mandatory to disclose the results of these reviews to women. Very few countries currently have mandatory disclosure.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times