Minister wasn't shown email with repeat smear test warning

An email sent to health officials last year on behalf of former clinical director of CervicalCheck Gráinne Flannelly – warning of potential result delays if women were offered free repeat smear tests – was not shown to Health Minister Simon Harris until this year.

The email was sent to the Department of Health on April 28, 2018, less than an hour after the minister announced the offer, according to Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Stephen Donnelly.

He was speaking after he requested the email be released to the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday.

“Mr Harris issued a tweet at 5.13pm on Saturday, April 28, 2018, to say he had heard from many women who would like a repeat test to reassure them. He claimed he was arranging for this facility to be available and said the State would meet the cost. Approximately three-quarters of an hour later, we now know, an email was sent by the head of screening at the National Screening Service to a senior official at the Department of Health, warning against the pitfalls of such an announcement,” he said.

The free repeat tests have been blamed for contributing to the 80,000 test backlog.

However, Mr Harris told the committee it was irrelevant he was not aware of it until February as his decision in April last year was taken in consultation with Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, with whom he was working “hand in glove”.

He regrets the test delays now, but said: “I’ve 110,000 reasons that this was the right thing to do because 110,000 women visited their GPs in relation to this, but only 57,000 opted for a repeat smear test.”

The hope is the backlog will be cleared by August.

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