Ex-HSE boss O'Brien's woe 'pales in comparison to the victims' pain'

The resignation of former HSE chief Tony O’Brien during the CervicalCheck scandal “pales” in comparison to the impact on the women and families who were affected by cervical cancer, the solicitor for the late Emma Mhic Mhathúna said.

Cian O’Carroll was reacting to Mr O’Brien’s weekend interview in which he hit out at his treatment over the scandal.

It saw Mr O’Brien resign from his post in the early summer.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna, whose test results were negligently misread on two occasions by a CervicalCheck-commisioned laboratory in the United States, died of cervical cancer last month.

Mr O’Brien said that he was not aware look-back audits of test results by CervicalCheck were not passed on to the women who had developed cervical cancer.

But Mr O’Carroll said that failures by the HSE had tragic consequences for the women and families who were victims of “incompetent management”.

Dr Scally described CervicalCheck as “doomed to fail”.

And he recently said that “quality assurance” was non-existent.

CervicalCheck was set up in 2008 and Mr O’Brien was chief executive of the National Cancer Screening Service from January 2007 to May 2011.

It was during that time it was decided to outsource the screening to US laboratories, said Mr O’Carroll.

Meanwhile, Vicky Phelan, whose court case exposed the scandal, said it was Mr O’Brien’s job to know what was going on in CervicalCheck.

“You were at the helm,” she said in comments addressed to him.

It was Mr O’Brien’s responsibility to make sure CervicalCheck was properly led, she said.

As head of the HSE he “presided over one of the worst health scandals to ever hit this country”.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday that he would not respond to Mr O’Brien’s accusation that he behaved like a “frightened little boy” in reacting to the furore.

“I don’t engage in personalised attacks.

“It’s not in my nature,” he added.

Commenting on Mr O’Brien’s description of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as a “kangaroo court”, he said: “I think some of the accusations that were levelled at that committee were not borne out by fact, when Dr Scally looked at it.”

Mr Harris, a former member of the PAC, said democratic accountability is really important.

He said officials in the public service “have to account” for their actions “by going before the democratically elected representatives of the people and answering questions”.

The minister said in the immediate wake of the scandal “there was a genuine fear… about the well-being and health of women” which the PAC tried to respond to, by asking questions.

However, he said he felt that some of the questioning of those people – who may have included Mr O’Brien – “got very hot and heavy”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the past six months alone, Mr Harris has brought through the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and has enacted the Public Health Alcohol legislation “that’s going to save a lot of lives”.

He said that it was “two pretty big achievements” by a health minister in six months.

“I believe anything he may lack in terms of experience or age he makes up in his commitment and compassion,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar’s officials in the Department of the Taoiseach yesterday again refused to respond to questions about the progress of an inquiry which he claimed he set up to find out who leaked part of the Scally report in advance of its publication – causing deep distress to victims.

Mr Varadkar said he appointed an official to investigate the leak, saying that Dr Scally was not in favour of a commission of inquiry into the scandal.

The leak caused serious upset to women who developed cervical cancer and to the families of the bereaved.

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