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How did the Department of Health become aware of the content of a letter of claim issued by a woman against Cervical Check and Quest Diagnostics last year?

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has called on the Department of Health to clarify how they became aware of letter of claim issued by a woman against Cervical Check and Quest Diagnostics, adding that 'serious GDPR related concerns remain'.

Deputy Tóibín said:

“This week marks one year since RTE News’ health correspondent Fergal Bowers broke the story that over 4,000 women were affected by an IT problem at Quest Diagnostics which resulted in issues with the reporting of smear test results and the issuing of letters to GPs and women. The story had come to light when one of the women affected contacted the Department of Health some three months previously, and remained persistent in her pursuit of the truth. The identity of this whistle-blower was later revealed as Sharon Butler Hughes from Stepaside in Dublin. The story was covered by RTE news for over a week – ( I have been in contact with Ms Butler Hughes frequently since then”.

Deputy Tóibín continued: “Sharon’s case sparked the Brian MacCraith Rapid Review Report. This week the HSE have agreed to amend the report to include a statement, drafted by the HSE and agreed to by Sharon which notes her taking of issue with the account of events provided by the Department of Health. Sharon says she spoke to a Department official on the evening of July 9th 2019 and was informed that the Minister had been ‘fully briefed’ on the situation. The Minister later denied that he had knowledge of the situation claiming the first he heard of it was shortly before 6pm of July 10th. It is interesting to note that the Department of Health call log, released under Freedom of Information, containing notes of Sharon’s July 9th phone call, was ‘updated’ shortly before 6pm on July 10th. Questions remain as to who edited, altered or updated this call log. Later that same week on Friday 12th July in the Seanad, Minister Harris said he had been made aware of the situation on the 9th July, the minister later told Sharon that his comments in the Seanad were merely a mistake in his notes”.

“Sharon felt that her integrity had been questioned by the Minister and sought the assistance of a solicitor in seeking an amendment to the MacCraith report which would note that she took issue with the statement made by the Minister. She also issued a letter of claim to Cervical Check and Quest Diagnostics. Sharon requested a meeting with the Health Minister but he told her in writing that he would only meet with her on condition that the subject of the ‘misunderstanding’ of the July 9th phone call would not be revisited. In the Health Committee in October I asked the Minister if he would agree to meet with Sharon without placing pre-conditions on the meeting and the Minister agreed. Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Stephen Donnelly also asked the Minister to meet with Sharon”.

“When the State issued its apology to the women effected by the cervical check scandal, the then leader of the opposition, Deputy Micheál Martin raised the issue with the then Taoiseach Deputy Leo Varadkar and asked that the Health Minister would meet with Sharon without placing pre-conditions on the meeting. Worryingly, after the Minister agreed to meet Sharon, following pressure from me and Deputy Donnelly in the Health Committee, and set a date for that meeting, he pulled out of the meeting with only hours to go. Minister Harris cited legal advice saying he had been made aware of a letter of claim which had issued on Sharon’s behalf. However, Sharon did not issue a letter of claim against the Department of Health. She did issue a letter to Cervical Check and Quest Diagnostics. How did the Minister for Health become aware of a letter of claim issued by a private citizen to two separate entities? Is this to suggest that whenever anyone issues a letter of claim to cervical check or Quest Diagnostics the Health Minister and the Department have access to that correspondence? A letter of claim is not a public document, and may be withdrawn at any time. I think there needs to be a review into this situation in order to determine whether or not GDPR laws were breached in this instance. Sharon has endured a lot the past year, but has fought for justice, for truth and for a service worthy of the women of Ireland, this past week has brought her much closure, but there are still questions to be answered”, concluded Deputy Tóibín.

By Aontú Press | 14 July, 2020

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