Further revelations are emerging in respect of the treatment of women whose smear tests by CervicalCheck - and their treatment at the hands of our health services and legal system - were wrong. We now know that three women at the centre of ten outstanding legal cases against the State relating to incorrect smear tests have died. The State Claims Agency was apparently told by CervicalCheck during the Vicky Phelan case that the women had been told. We now know of course that this was not the case.
In the context of the forthcoming cases - this came across yesterday in a fairly frank exchange at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach involving the director general of the State Claims Agency and others - that the State may not have a liability and that, in fact, liability may lie with the US companies involved. It seems, therefore, that no guarantees can yet be given to the women involved in those cases to the effect that they will not have to go through the same treatment as Vicky Phelan. Has the Government considered this issue? Will the Taoiseach indicate the steps the Government intends to take to prevent further trauma to women involved in such cases? The director general of the agency said that in cases where the State has liability, they would be dealt with differently. We know that in many instances we are talking about cases involving the actual screening companies. Furthermore, at yesterday's committee meeting, the director general, in response to questions from Deputy MacSharry and others, indicated that if section 32B of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 had been commenced, then the approach adopted by the State Claims Agency could have been different.
The section relates to pre-action protocols designed to secure an early resolution in clinical negligence claims by ensuring there is disclosure of all medical and other records in the hopes of reducing the number of cases. Why, then, has section 32B of the 2015 Act not been commenced by the Minister for Justice and Equality? I understand it was signed into law towards the end of 2015. The State Claims Agency and other bodies get attacked all the time in the immediate aftermath of a crisis but we can hardly blame officials if an Act or a section has not been commenced and certain options the Oireachtas intended to provide them with are not, therefore, open to them. Were there consultations between health and justice officials on that issue?
The Taoiseach said yesterday in the House that there were approximately 1,600 cases. These are the 1,600 cases announced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, last Tuesday night which had been notified to the National Cancer Registry but which had not been notified to CervicalCheck. The Taoiseach indicated yesterday that the vast majority of those 1,600 cases would not need to be part of the audit for reasons he set out. Can the Taoiseach state categorically that there are no issues relating to those 1,600 cases? Deputy Kelly made a number of observations last evening in terms of the level of knowledge of the Department of Health on issues between the cancer registry and the CervicalCheck programme in the context of data interchange and all of that. Are the Taoiseach and the Minister aware of such issues? Has the Department been aware of such issues down through the years?