Public confidence in HSE must be ‘urgently restored’, Harris

Minister for Health Simon Harris said there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the HSE following the cervical cancer tests scandal.

With concerns deepening over the government and health service’s handling of the controversy which saw more than 200 women given incorrect smear test results, the head of the HSE Tony O’Brien was forced to resign and a bill to establish an independent board for the HSE is now being drafted.

Simon Harris said: “The events of the past few weeks have once again made clear, there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the HSE through a series of actions to strengthen the management, governance and accountability of the organisation.

A key component of this is the establishment of a Board for the HSE. “The current HSE structure does not provide an adequate governance arrangement for the HSE, as I outlined to the Sláintecare committee, and as has been reflected in the report. “The establishment of the HSE Board should be considered as part of a broader package of recommendations in the Sláintecare report to revise health structures.

It is my intention to seek Government approval as part of my response to the Sláintecare report to reconfigure the health service to include a more strategic “national centre” carrying out national level functions, and with new regional bodies with responsibility for the delivery of integrated health and social care services.”

Mr Harris added: “It is my firm view that a Board governance structure, with strong competencies across key areas, will contribute to strengthening the oversight and performance of the HSE pending its further reorganisation. Under the new legislation the Board will be accountable to the Minister for the performance of its functions and it will be responsible for the appointment of a CEO. The CEO will be responsible to the Board and the Board will take responsibility for assessing the CEO’s performance.”

Meanwhile the acting head of the HSE has issued an apology for the confusion and alarm which was created in relation to the Cervical Check programme “as a result of the failure to communicate with the women affected”.

Speaking before an Oireachtas committee John Connaghan said that failure had “ultimately impacted on every female in Ireland, their families, their spouses and their children”. “I want to sincerely apologise on behalf of the HSE and Cervical Check to the women and their families who have been directly affected by what has happened,” Connaghan said.

He said he wanted to extend that apology to “all of the women of Ireland who have been understandably frightened and concerned of what they have read and heard”. He said the organisation must learn lessons from what had happened and that he wanted to assure the public that he was determined HSE staff would take those lessons on board and bring about changes to make sure nothing similar happened in the future. Cervical Check is vital to women’s health, and confidence in the programme must be restored, he said.

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