Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 July 2019

CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill 2019: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, for coming to the House to introduce the Bill. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for attending to deal with it.

This is welcome legislation. We have the report from Mr. Justice Meenan which recommends the setting up of a tribunal and deals with how it is to be established and operated. We have appointed the chairperson of the tribunal, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, who has huge experience in dealing with difficult issues and cases. It is important that we deal with cases in a proper manner. The issue for many people who want to bring claims is that they want to bring them privately, but they will also have the option, if they want all or part of the hearing to be held in public, to make that application.

It is important that we give recognition to the work of Dr. Gabriel Scally in the reports he has produced and identifying a number of issues which had not been disclosed at an early stage, in particular, the number of laboratories to which work had been subcontracted out. Even CervicalCheck appeared not to have been aware of the subcontracting that was taking place.

In dealing with the Bill it is important that we also give recognition to the amount of work that has been done on cervical screening and the number of lives that have been saved. What occurred was that women who had gone through the screening process and been told that they had no abnormalities were within a period of time identified with cancer. It was for them CervicalCheck decided to carry out an audit to see whether the cancer could have been identified at an earlier date. It turned out that 221 cases were identified where inaccurate readings had been furnished to the clinicians and patients. A a result, we are left with the difficulty of dealing with this issue where inaccurate information was furnished and patients were given a false sense of security.

When patients became aware that their cancer could have been identified and treated at an earlier stage, it caused huge difficulties in trying to deal with it, not only for themselves but also for their immediate families. In some cases, the results of the audit were not furnished to the patients, while in others the results were only furnished after the patient had died. It is appropriate, therefore, that we set up a proper structure to deal with these cases, particularly because the patients have gone through huge trauma in being diagnosed with cancer and going through the treatment process. Every one of us in the House has some relation, family member or close acquaintance who has received treatment for cancer, whether it be cervical cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer or otherwise. It causes huge trauma for both the patient and immediate family members. The one thing we need to do is to try to lessen that trauma by making sure the process made available to deal with the issue of the compensation that should be awarded does not involve an additional traumatic experience for them. Thus, the recommendation of Mr. Justice Meenan was that a tribunal be set up.

It is important to recognise that there must be agreement by both the HSE and the cytology laboratories that they will participate in the tribunal. It is important that there be agreement on participating to make sure all parties will be involved.

This is welcome legislation, something we need to put in place. The issue that still has to be dealt is the decision of Mr. Justice Kevin Cross in the High Court in the context of “absolute confidence”. That matter still has to go before the Supreme Court and needs to be clarified. Overall, the Minister has adopted the right approach and accepted the recommendation of Mr. Justice Meenan to set up a tribunal. The legislation is comprehensive and deals with all aspects of the matter. It also deals with the availability of an appeals process and ensures there can be directions by the tribunal and recommendations to the Minister from it, which is welcome. It is important that we pass the legislation and set up the tribunal. We have appointed a chairperson and need to appoint a further two persons to it in order that it can get on with its work at the earliest possible date.


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