Thursday, 7 March 2019

Ceisteanna (148)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

148. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Health if he received written or verbal advice, directly or indirectly, on free smear tests before he announced same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11348/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Health)

On 28 April 2018, I made the decision to provide for a free out of cycle smear test for any woman who was concerned, where her GP felt she should have a further test as part of her reassurance. My Department's advice in this regard was reflected in the press statement issued on the 28 April which said that, “for any woman who has had a CervicalCheck smear test and where her GP feels she should have a further test as part of her reassurance, the Minister has asked CervicalCheck to make the necessary arrangements, including payment provision. These arrangements will be confirmed next week."

A fee to provide for this free repeat smear was subsequently agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation, and welcomed by TDs across the Dáil and by GP representative bodies. Neither I nor my officials received advice that recommended against these tests in advance of the decision.  I understand that, subsequent to the decision, concerns were raised verbally by the National Screening Service on foot of contact by my Department, but these failed to recognise the circumstances of the unfolding crisis in the programme. Were it not for these circumstances, it would never have been necessary to contemplate such a step in the ordinary course of the operation of the screening programme. The decision cannot be separated from the reality that general practitioners, in difficult circumstances, were dealing with large numbers of worried patients as a result of the issues which came into the public domain over the course of Thursday and Friday, 26th and 27th of April. It was important that GPs be supported while they awaited supporting information to be developed and disseminated by CervicalCheck. The alternative, i.e. that the State failed to recognise the reality of patients presenting in this way to GPs or the State refused to pay for such smears, would have been untenable in the circumstances.