Lives of Irish women sold out by the state

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A dodgy deal for cut-price cancer tests and a subsequent cover-up wrecked the health of hundreds of Irish women over the past decade, with 17 deaths attributed to the scandal.

The resignation of the director general of the 26 County Health Service Executive (HSE) is now being demanded by both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.

The shoddy programme of cervical screenings meant that hundreds of smear tests were reported as negative when they should have resulted in positive diagnoses of cancer. Worse, audited and corrected results were not communicated to the women affected, delaying treatments which could have saved their lives, in an evident attempt to conceal the fiasco.

The scandal emerged after Limerick woman Vicky Phelan (pictured) settled her action against a US laboratory, subcontracted by the state’s CervicalCheck screening programme to assess the tests, without admission of liability for 2.5 million euro.

Ms Phelan discovered that a 2011 smear test that had initially shown no abnormalities was, three years later, found to be inaccurate. She was not told of the false test until September 2017. She is now suffering from terminal cancer.

It subsequently emerged that 209 women have had their negative test results changed to positive following an audit.

Ms Phelan has repeatedly called for HSE chief Tony O’Brien to resign.

The testing programme overseen by O’Brien saw testing outsourced to a US firm which normally processes annual smear tests, but in a cheaper and less rigorous manner than would be required in Ireland or Britain, where women are offered a test only every three years.

The move is understood to have had the approval of the then Minister for Health Mary Harney as part of her controversial drive to privatise health services. It came against the advice of the Quality Assurance committee of the National Cervical Screen Programme, which resigned en masse at the decision.

Despite allegations of criminal negligence, there have been no calls for a police investigation. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar instead said it had been a “cock up” by the health service and a “culture change” was needed. Mr Varadkar said a “scoping inquiry” would be carried out to “get answers”.

His party’s response so far has been similar to its recent defence of Garda police Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, who was eventually forced to resign after a series of scandals involving corruption, incompetence and cover-up.

Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD questioned Mr Varadkar’s attitude to accountability.

“It beggars belief that the head of government would choose to use such terminology when speaking about a catastrophic failure and a clear cover-up on the part the HSE,” she said.

“Seventeen women have died. Many more have been left in the dark regarding life and death medical information. It was deliberately concealed from them by the HSE.

“That is not the stuff of mistakes. I think the use of such flippant language runs the real risk of invalidating what these women are being subjected to.

“The fact is that Tony O’Brien has presided over negligence, concealment and misinformation with the most serious consequences for women and their families.

“He cannot remain as Director General. That is the very least women affected and their families need to see.

“It is a scandal that Mr O’Brien will be allowed by the Taoiseach to sail off into the sunset to large pension having left a scene of devastation and trauma behind him.

“Mr Varadkar must sack this incompetent man.”

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