Healthcare news

Cervical screening row: Head of Republic's HSE facing no confidence motion

Tony O'Brien, director general of the Health Service Executive, is facing a Dáil no confidence motion. File picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE head of the Republic's Health Service Executive is facing a Dáil motion of no confidence following the cervical cancer screening controversy.

Sinn Féin is to move the no confidence motion against Tony O'Brien next week.

Mr O'Brien is due to leave his post in 12 weeks. However, he has come under pressure following revelations about failures in the CervicalCheck national screening programme.

An audit of the programme has found potential errors in 209 cervical cancer cases, according to updated figures. However, there are fears many more women may also be affected after it was confirmed the smear tests of around 1,500 women who were diagnosed with cancer will have to be re-assessed.

Sinn Féin's health spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly said Mr O'Brien's position was "untenable".

"He has presided over a scandal that has cost the lives of 17 women so far and has caused fear and worry for the vast majority of women in the state," she said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he expects Mr O'Brien to focus on the scandal before he leaves.

He said it has been a "dreadful week" for the health service.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy and the publication of a report into the care of mothers and babies at Portiuncula Hospital in Co Galway.

One of the authors of the report into the care of 18 babies and their mothers said a combination of lack of staff and resources led to failures including the serious harm and death of babies.

Professor James Walker told RTÉ a lack of staff at midwifery and consultant level was key to many of the problems.

He said "as soon as things go well you can cope ... but when things go wrong" there were not enough people to help.

During a speech in Tallaght yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was determined to restore public trust in the health service.

He insisted that a move away from a “culture of secrecy” was required to prevent similar failures from happening in the future.

“The medical profession, a profession of which I am proud to be a member, can be far too paternalistic sometimes as professionals," he said.

"There is a view still that the doctor knows best."

The Taoiseach also said he would not rule out a public inquiry into the cervical screening controversy.

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