Last week I referred to the fact that as many as 80,000 women were waiting for cervical smear test results. There is an enormous backlog, largely because of a decision taken by the Minister for Health last April to offer a free test to every woman who requested one. For about three months we have been seeking to ascertain the extent to which the Minister sought, received or ignored official advice on this decision because it has had significantly damaging repercussions for the programme which has been very effective over a period of ten years, with 65,000 pre-cancer cases being diagnosed and a very high participation rate. It is now in something of a crisis.
The truth and the record of the House matter. The Minister's story has shifted continuously from January onwards, following questions about the issue. We need a comprehensive statement from him. On 5 February he denied that the decision had been made against official advice. He said that was not the case, but we now know that there was official advice against the decision. Professor Gráinne Flannelly's submission was one element of it. We know that there was a meeting between Department of Health and CervicalCheck officials on that day and that an email went from CervicalCheck to the Department. The Minister subsequently said the warnings had been significantly after he had made his decision. He set this out in a statement to the Dáil in February. We know that Mr. Tony O'Brien, the then director general of the HSE, spoke to the Minister on the Sunday after the decision was made and asked him to walk it back. This was before a Cabinet meeting on the following Tuesday at which the decision was formally endorsed and when a presentation was made. Were Ministers aware of all of that detail, the warnings and official advice against the decision to proceed? A number of the statements from the Minister are incorrect. There were warnings from very senior people on the day and the day after.
On 8 May I asked the Taoiseach during Leaders' Questions if there was the capacity to do the smear tests and if it was the correct official response. That was despite all of the spin that I had allegedly welcomed all of this. I asked some clear, pertinent questions on 8 May and what I said has been borne out in the fullness of time because Professor Gráinne Flannelly said the decision had fundamentally undermined the advice.
Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to come to the House and issue a comprehensive statement outlining the sequence of events leading up to the decision, the advice he received and when he received it and correcting the Dáil record as he does so? Will he publish the email sent by CervicalCheck to the Department on the day he made his decision? What is the timeline for the elimination of the backlog? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the CervicalCheck screening programme can cope with the overload that has resulted and that there is capacity to clear the backlog while continuing with the programme?