As Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, I apologise to the women and their loved ones who suffered from a litany of failures in how cervical screening in the country operated for many years. I do so having listened to many of those affected and do so guided by the Scally inquiry report.
Today we say "Sorry" to those whose lives were shattered. We say "Sorry" to those whose lives were destroyed and to those whose lives could have been different. We know that cancer screening programmes cannot detect all cancers, but we also know that many failures have taken place. We are sorry for the failures in clinical governance. We are sorry for the failures in leadership and management. We are sorry for the failure to tell the whole truth and to do so in a timely manner. We are sorry for the humiliation, disrespect and deceit, the false reassurance, the attempts by some to play down the seriousness of the debacle and inaccuracies and claims from others, all of which added to confusion and public concern.
We apologise to those who survived and still bear the scars, both physically and mentally, as do their families. We apologise to those who are here in our presence and to those watching from home who have always kept this matter to themselves. We apologise to those who have passed on and cannot be here. We acknowledge the failure that took place with CervicalCheck. I know that today's apology is too late for some who were affected and that for others, it will never be enough. Today's apology is offered to all of the people the State let down and to their families who also paid the price for those failings - a broken service, broken promises, broken lives, a debacle that left a country heartbroken, a system that was doomed to fail.
We apologise to our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. We apologise to the men who lost the centre of their lives and who every day have to pick up the pieces - single fathers and grandparents. We apologise to the children who will always have a gaping hole in their lives. We apologise to all those who are grieving for what has been taken from them; the happy days that will never be. A State apology may not provide closure, but I hope it will help to heal.
I have met some of you and your families in recent weeks. I have heard your stories, told to me with dignity, courage and integrity, about families turned upside down; the grief of losing loved ones; the guilt of those who survived, thinking they were the lucky ones; those who have lost their jobs and careers, their ability to have children, and their feeling of self-worth; those who feel mutilated inside; and about those who feel they have robbed their partner out of the possibility of having a child, with a future stolen from them. A State apology will not repair all that has been broken or restore all that has been lost but we can make it count for something. Thanks to Dr. Scally's three reports into CervicalCheck, we have discovered many truths and now know many of the facts. There are some things that we will never know but we can act on what we know about. The Government has accepted all of the recommendations set out in Dr. Scally’s reports and all will be implemented.
In the words of Vicky Phelan, I too want something good to come out of all of this. Speaking as a doctor, as well as a politician, a brother and a son, I know the lessons we must learn. We need to build a different and much better culture in our health service, one that treats patients with respect and always tells the truth and which is never paternalistic, because the doctor does not always know best. We must share full information with our patients, admit mistakes and put the person first. There is no information about a patient that the patient should not know. No patient should ever feel stonewalled by the system. We should never fail to act out of fear of litigation or recrimination even if those fears are real. The involvement of patient advocates such as Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh and others has shaped and enhanced our response. We revised the open disclosure policy so that in future patients will have full knowledge about their care and treatment. They will be informed when things go wrong, will be met to discuss what happened, and will receive a sincere apology if an error was made while caring for them. Above all, patients will be treated with compassion and empathy.
The new patient safety Bill will provide for the mandatory reporting of serious reportable events and will establish a statutory duty of candour. We will soon establish a new independent patient safety council. The first task of that council will be to undertake a detailed review of the existing policies on open disclosure across the whole healthcare landscape. As a State, we aim to make cervical cancer a very rare disease. It is almost impossible to eradicate a disease but we can come very close. We are switching to primary HPV screening and Ireland will become one of the first countries in the world to adopt this new, more accurate screening test. We are also extending the ever-developing HPV vaccine to boys. We are educating and informing parents about the benefits of the vaccine. We are investing in better facilities in Ireland, such as a national cervical screening laboratory, in conjunction with the Coombe. This enhanced facility will take some time to develop but will provide a better balance between public and private provision of laboratory services to the cervical screening programme, always putting quality ahead of cost, and it will bring more testing back to Ireland.
I also want to recognise the staff of the HSE, of CervicalCheck in Limerick, and the people working in smear clinics, colposcopy clinics and outpatient departments across the country. They too got caught up in the system's failure. I know they are not individually to blame and have been working hard ever since to put things right. We need to restore confidence in screening. We need to listen to those who have suffered and learn from their stories so that we can find justice and truth. In July, this House established the CervicalCheck tribunal, a statutory tribunal to deal with the issue of liability in CervicalCheck cases. It will not be perfect but it will be quicker, with a dedicated judge and independent experts, and it will be less adversarial than court. Women will still have the right to go to court. Separately, we established an ex gratia compensation scheme for those affected by the non-disclosure of CervicalCheck, to provide financial compensation without the need to go to court. However, this was never about money. It was about accountability, discovering what happened and why, providing justice and finding peace. It was about making a meaningful acknowledgement of what happened and giving an assurance that this will not happen again to anyone else again. Sadly, as we have seen further errors in some laboratories since the publication of the Scally report, causing confusion and anxiety, I know we have more to do to restore confidence and we are determined to do so.
What happened to so many women and their families should not have happened. While every case was not negligence, every case was a lost opportunity for an earlier diagnosis and treatment. It was a failure of our health service and our State, its agencies, systems and its culture. We have found the truth and the facts and are making changes to put things right. We need to restore trust and rebuild relationships that have been severely damaged. On behalf of the Government and the State, I am sorry that all this happened and I apologise to all those hurt or wronged. We vow to make sure that it never happens to anyone else ever again.