Yesterday's supplementary report from Dr. Gabriel Scally on the CervicalCheck scandal raises further concerns, while also providing reassurance in relation to quality and standards. It makes some interesting insights and recommendations. There is clearly concern about the number of laboratories which are being used to outsource testing, which is 16 rather than the original six, but Dr. Scally is assured that did not impact on quality. We must reassert that screening programmes are very important. They can help to prolong and save lives. The CervicalCheck programme has saved many lives and has had positive effects in terms of earlier interventions. It has been impactful and we should reassert the importance of the screening programmes.
Since the scandal broke a year ago, commitments were made on a number of issues, primarily the establishment of a compensation tribunal to take the issues out of the courts and the introduction of open mandatory disclosure. There have been significant delays in progressing both. Women have had to go through the courts and endure the trauma and distress of court appearances. We remain unsure of the timeline for the review being undertaken by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on the Irish smear tests. It was August originally and it has now slipped back to October. Will the Taoiseach update us on that point?
Those within the 221 group still await reimbursement for the costs involved in having to do their own independent slide reviews, which they were obliged to organise for themselves and was not included in the original support package. In the critical part of his analysis, Dr. Scally makes the point that there is a crying need for a change in approach to the mechanisms used to respond on the rare occasions when harm results from error in screening programmes. He notes:
The legal processes currently in place are deeply unsatisfactory. They convert error into injustice, and then convert that injustice into financial remedy. The process is traumatic and filled with uncertainty for the person at the centre of the legal action and for their family.
He notes that the established legal processes clearly fail to meet the wishes of the patient. A no-fault scheme with dialogue could bring about compensation with "listening, hearing, grace and compassion – and the real hope that what happened in the past shall not happen again". Scally's recommendation on this is central to how the screening programmes go forward in terms of its interaction with patients and those who avail of the screening programmes. There is no question that women caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal have been forced into very traumatic and expensive legal cases in the pursuit of an explanation or apology. Women want to be told the truth. They want to be given an apology and they want reassurance that it will not happen to anyone else.
It is well over a year since the scandal broke. Is Dr. Scally correct that a no-fault compensation approach is the most effective way to deal with this? Will the Taoiseach indicate if the Government is prepared to introduce such a no-fault compensation scheme in the context of the CervicalCheck programme? When does the Government believe the tribunal will be established? Can he give the House a timeline for the establishment of a tribunal?