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Taoiseach makes formal apology to women affected by failures in CervicalCheck programme

Varadkar apologised to the women, their partners and their children for the pain they suffered.

Image: Dáil

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has formally apologised to the women and the families affected by the failures in the CervicalCheck screening programme. 

In the Dáil chamber this afternoon, Varadkar apologised to the women, their partners and their children for the pain they suffered as a result, and acknowledged that a State apology “may not provide closure but it I hope it will help to heal”.

Issues with the screening programme emerged after a High Court case taken by Vicky Phelan last year.

The Limerick woman and others, including the late Emma Mhic Mhathúna, became advocates for the women affected by cervical cancer.

The service failed to tell women who had been diagnosed with cancer that their original smear tests had been reviewed after their diagnosis.

In some cases the reviews found false negatives in tests and women in these cases may have benefited from an earlier diagnosis and earlier care.

He acknowledged that the apology was too late for some who were affected. “For others it will never be enough,” he said.”Today’s apology is offered to all the people the State let down. And to the families who paid the price for those failings.”

“A broken service, broken promises, broken lives – a debacle that left a country heartbroken. A system that was doomed to fail. We apologise: to our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers – to the men who lost the centre of their lives and who every day have to try and pick up the pieces. The single fathers and grandparents.

“To the children who will always have a gaping hole in their lives. To all those grieving for what has been taken from them. The happy days that will never be. A State apology may not provide closure, but I hope it will help to heal.”

He also named six specific areas which the State was apologising for:

  • Failures of clinical governance
  • Failures of leadership and management
  • Failure to tell the whole truth and do so in a timely manner
  • The humiliation, disrespect and deceit
  • The false reassurance
  • The attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle

Dr Gabriel Scally, who was tasked by the government with examining the screening programme, found that there were failures “from top to bottom”.

Following the apology, the CervicalCheck patient support group, 221plus, described the Taoiseach’s acknowledgement on behalf of the state as a “watershed moment”. 

“The State’s acknowledgement and apology through An Taoiseach to the women and families adversely impacted by the abject failures of CervicalCheck is a watershed moment. It is an acknowledgement from the core of Government that our healthcare system was not patient centred,” it said in a statement. 

“For us, the acknowledgement and this apology have huge significance. They are central to the process of healing and of rebuilding our lives, and the lives of those who love, support and care for us.”

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin said: “It took a very brave and determined woman, together with her family, to go to the High Court before the scandal was acknowledged and it has taken a series of damning independent reports before the full details were revealed.”

He added: “Our first duty today must be to honour the fight of those affected, in order to obtain information, accountability and change.”

Today, the Irish Cancer Society’s CEO, Averil power said: “We welcome the Taoiseach’s apology today and hope it goes some way towards healing the immense hurt caused to these women and their families.”

“It is a testament to the immense bravery of those who have shared deeply personal and painful stories in order to deliver badly needed change,” she said. 

“As a nation we owe it to all those affected, particularly those no longer with us, to ensure the Taoiseach’s heartfelt words are backed up by real action and confidence restored in our lifesaving cancer screening programmes.

Labour’s health spokesperson, Alan Kelly said it won’t bring back the women who have passed on but it might begin the healing process for those who waited for the State to give a “proper, informed, official acknowledgement of the wrongdoings”. 

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