Cervical screening scandal victim attacks ex-HSE boss over media comments

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A victim of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening scandal has criticised the country’s former health service chief after he attacked politicians who probed the issue.

Lorraine Walsh, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer after previously receiving inaccurate test results, said it was a pity that Tony O’Brien “couldn’t take responsibility for the disaster that is the HSE”, that he had led.

In an interview with The Sunday Business Post, ex-Health Service Executive (HSE) boss Mr O’Brien accused Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris of being a weak minister, who behaved like a “frightened little boy” during the recent health scandal.

Mr O’Brien went on to accuse Mr Harris of being obsessed with media coverage.

In response, Ms Walsh tweeted: “Pity after all this time he couldn’t take responsibility for the disaster that is the HSE, that he lead and desperately failed at leading! Shame on you Tony O’Brien, you made me sick and now 6 years later you make me feel sick!”

The Galway woman is one of the more than 220 women affected by failures in the CervicalCheck screening system.

It emerged earlier this year that 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

Mr O’Brien resigned as director general of the HSE in May after coming under pressure over the controversy.

CervicalCheck programme
Tony O’Brien (Niall Carson/PA)

“The CervicalCheck situation was a very difficult time for women in Ireland. They felt let down. The women were and are the Minister’s priority.”

She continued: “Tony O’Brien took the decision to step down from his post. The Minister believes that was the right decision. He wishes him well.”

The husband of one of the victims also hit out at Mr O’Brien.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died last year, tweeted along with a link to the story: “Head of the ‘Old Boys Club’ gets taken out, read his bitter response here in this interview.”

In the article, Mr O’Brien described the HSE’s initial response to the crisis as a “trainwreck”.

In his tweet, Mr Teap asked: “Who was the leader of this ‘trainwreck’? Where are the questions on his poor leadership skills.”

Mr Teap, who has two young boys to raise on his own, did not learn until earlier this year that his late wife’s smear tests results from 2010 and 2013, which had shown no abnormalities, were incorrect.

Mr Harris appointed Mr Teap and Ms Walsh as patient representatives to a steering committee tasked with overseeing changes to the Cervical Check programme.

In the interview, Mr O’Brien said the Public Accounts Committee, which examined the Cervical Check controversy, was a “kangaroo court” and accused Sinn Fein of being particularly destructive.

Mr O’Brien said the party had “effectively swapped the balaclava for parliamentary privilege”.

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane said Mr O’Brien’s comments represented the insider culture that refused to be challenged.

“Insider Ireland doesn’t like to be questioned,” Mr Cullinane said.

“The cosy political establishment and highly paid senior civil servants think that they are above public scrutiny. Decades of old boys’ clubs and their political masters have allowed this culture to flourish.”

He added: “O’Brien’s attack on the Public Accounts Committee and the democratic process is outrageous.

“He is clearly licking his wounds and instead of addressing the issues at the core of accountability and governance of the HSE, he lashes out.”

Labour party leader Brendan Howlin said: “It is extraordinary that a former public servant would say things in those stark terms about any minister.”

He added: “I would be critical of the performance of many members of the current government… I don’t think it’s a particularly welcome thing, former civil servants, public servants using that sort of language.”

Ms Walsh, Mr Teap and fellow campaigner Vicky Phelan, who brought the controversy to light, were honoured at the Labour party’s national conference on Saturday for advocating on behalf of the many women and families affected.

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