The Irish Mail on Sunday - - CERVICAL CANCER SCANDAL - By John Lee PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

FINE Gael TDs were last night deeply crit­i­cal of Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar’s han­dling of the Cer­vi­calCheck cri­sis. His in­ter­ven­tion was deemed too late, while his in­ter­views and me­dia per­for­mances were de­scribed as ‘in­sin­cere’ and ‘lack­ing in de­tail’.

Fe­male Fine Gael par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were par­tic­u­larly scathing in their crit­i­cism.

One wo­man said: ‘He is the man who is in charge and he has seemed happy to let Si­mon Har­ris do all the run­ning on this, think­ing he could avoid the flak.

‘But he be­lat­edly re­alised that the cri­sis is so in­tense that it is dam­ag­ing his Gov­ern­ment, and most hurt­fully, his im­age.

‘He only seemed to in­ter­vene prop­erly in the cri­sis af­ter me­dia crit­i­cism came his way. But then it was too late.’

An­other TD said that the res­ig­na­tion of HSE direc­tor gen­eral Tony O’Brien also came two weeks too late.

‘Leo should have moved him out ages ago, it’s all been cack­hand­edly han­dled,’ they said.

Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Con­nell was the first to call on Mr O’Brien to re­sign. She did not crit­i­cise Mr Varad­kar, who she op­posed in last year’s lead­er­ship cam­paign, but con­tin­ued in vo­cal at­tack on the health ser­vice.

‘We have for years dis­cussed how top heavy the HSE is with man­age­ment and wrung our hands about how we need to re­form and change, but when that dys­func­tion within the HSE dis­tils down a re­sult that leads to dead women and worse out­comes for women, we see very tan­gi­ble re­sults on the dys­func­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion,’ she told the Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day yes­ter­day.

‘The struc­ture is, to my mind, to show the tiers of who is in charge, the tiers of author­ity, but ac­tu­ally when you ask who is in charge it doesn’t seem to bear any re­la­tion to the struc­ture of the HSE.

‘It seems to be more about job ti­tles and po­si­tions than ac­tu­ally de­liv­er­ing healthcare for peo­ple.’

She urged for the speedy en­act­ment of ‘ac­count­abil­ity leg­is­la­tion’ that was first her­alded by Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris in this news­pa­per last week.

‘When you’re a pro­fes­sional such as a nurse, a doc­tor or a phar­ma­cist you have a reg­u­la­tory body that has a statu­tory foot­ing, that you are an­swer­able to, re­gard­less of who your em­ployer is, sep­a­rate to your em­ployer. How­ever, within the HSE or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture, those peo­ple aren’t ac­count­able, gen­er­ally speak­ing, to a reg­u­la­tory body. That, to my mind, poses a dif­fi­culty.’

Ms O’Con­nell, who is a phar­ma­cist, added that doc­tors should be given pri­macy over man­agers in the HSE. And she con­tin­ued in a vo­cal crit­i­cism of Mr O’Brien. ‘Tony O’Brien still seems to think it’s all about him­self,’ she said. ‘And re­ally, two weeks in, it is hard to fathom how any­one could be think­ing about them­selves at this point in time.’

Asked whether Mr O’Brien should have gone ear­lier, she replied: ‘It is hard to know now. I think the memo that came out in the week was the nail in Tony

O’Brien’s cof­fin. It is fairly clear to me that memo wasn’t ad­dressed prop­erly, or didn’t go to the right places, or wasn’t com­mu­ni­cated to the right peo­ple, and that’s very se­ri­ous.’

The Gov­ern­ment has said that nei­ther Min­is­ter Har­ris nor his pre­de­ces­sor at the Depart­ment of Health, Leo Varad­kar, were made aware of the loom­ing scan­dal by of­fi­cials. The cru­cial memo that in­formed Mr O’Brien and oth­ers was de­liv­ered in March 2016, when Mr Varad­kar was Min­is­ter for Health.

Mr Varad­kar told a press con­fer­ence on Fri­day that his spe­cial ad­vis­ers were not made aware of this memo ei­ther.

Mean­while, de­spite the mount­ing scan­dals, Ms O’Con­nell en­cour­aged peo­ple to have faith in screen­ing pro­grammes.

‘Be­cause the Cer­vi­calCheck scan­dal has had a real im­pact on peo­ple’s lives.

‘De­spite all the or­gan­i­sa­tional is­sues, de­spite all the peo­ple in im­por­tant roles, de­spite all of the aw­ful, aw­ful cases that are emerg­ing, the whole func­tion of our can­cer strat­egy is to im­prove out­comes for the peo­ple of Ire­land.’

Ad­dREss­Ing COn­CERns: Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar, left, and Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris this week

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