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Taoiseach to 'check out' why Dr Gabriel Scally is no longer overseeing CervicalCheck plan

148 out of 170 of Scally’s recommended actions have been implemented, with a further 12 on track to be completed.

Dr Gabriel Scally arriving at Leinster house ahead of the Oireachtas Health Committee.
Dr Gabriel Scally arriving at Leinster house ahead of the Oireachtas Health Committee.
Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said he’d “check out” the reasons why public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally is no longer overseeing the implementation of his final recommendations for the CervicalCheck programme, after denying in the Dáil that he had been “dumped”.

In response to a PQ from Labour leader Alan Kelly, the Department of Health confirmed that the author of a 2018 Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck programme was no longer in charge of the plan.

Dr Scally is quoted in the Irish Examiner as saying he is ready to continue his work if asked to do so, and that the Covid-19 pandemic would require further reviews.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, the Department of Health said: 

“Dr Scally suggested, in his second review report, that he ‘conduct one final progress review at a suitable point sometime after the coronavirus crisis has abated’.”

“Minister Donnelly is supportive of this and will raise it with the CervicalCheck Steering Committee at the appropriate time,” the Department said.

Here is the extract from the ‘Review of the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Scoping Inquiry into CervicalCheck’, where Scally does make that suggestion. 

Department of Health Scally report April 2020 Source: Department of Health

What’s the implementation plan?

Dr Gabriel Scally’s 170-page report into the CervicalCheck programme was published on 12 September 2018.

It was commissioned by the Minister for Health Simon Harris to examine “all aspects of CervicalCheck”: including Vicky Phelan’s case, the non-disclosure of audits to women who later were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and how clinical information was shared with women who took part in the programme.

The final report found major shortcomings in terms of disclosure, major deficiencies in the governance of the screening programme, as well as a lack of public health expertise.

Although Scally wrote that the programme had been “doomed to fail at some point”, and while listing the effect the non-disclosure of audits had on women as well as the devastating effect of cervical cancer, the Scally Report said that audits had their limits, and that cervical cancer screening programmes in general do “not yet provide the complete answer to preventing, accurately detecting and effectively treating all cases of cervical cancer”.

After the Scoping Inquiry was published in September 2018, the then-Government accepted all 53 recommendations made by Scally, and published an implementation plan on 11 December 2018. Scally was to oversee its implementation. 

Of the 170 actions that needed to be taken to implement the 53 recommendations made by Scally in that report, 148 have now been implemented in full.

Of the outstanding 22 actions, 12 are marked ‘in progress’, eight are marked as ‘overdue to finish’ and two ‘overdue to start’ at end 2020.

The two actions marked ‘overdue to start’ relate to ongoing work in the HSE on document management, and the development of data systems, which are dependent on other linked actions being completed first. The Covid-19 situation throughout 2020 impacted on the progress of some of the actions, the Department said.

Dr Scally was requested to carry out reviews of how the implementation plan was progressing, submitting his final report in April last year, which was published on 21 December.

In this review report, Dr Scally said that “substantial progress” has been made, that the vast majority of actions were on track or were completed, and he is satisfied with the approach and structures in place for implementation.

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Today’s Dáil exchange

Speaking in the Dáil today, Kelly said that Dr Scally had played a vital role in a process “to restore trust and confidence” in the cervical cancer screening programme. 

We need an explanation from the Minister as to why he has dispensed with the services of Dr Scally when he himself has recommended that the progress on implementation should be subject to regular review.

“The previous Minister for Health Simon Harris had confirmed that Dr Scally would continue even through the pandemic so we need answers. I understand he had asked him to continue his work, and the implementation of the recommendations isn’t finished.

“We need to know who made this decision, and why Dr Scally was removed.”

In response to Kelly’s question, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said:

It has not come before Government in terms of any formal decision.  The Government has not dumped anybody. I will check this out and see what the process was and what happened and will come back to the Deputy.

The Department of Health said that it “engages on an ongoing basis with the HSE and the National Cancer Registry of Ireland as part of the oversight of the implementation of the remaining recommendations and actions”.

“The CervicalCheck Steering Committee, chaired by Professor Anne Scott, will also have a role in oversight of the implementation of the remaining recommendations.”

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