Earlier this week it was revealed that 250,000 Irish smear samples were outsourced for testing to private laboratories that had not been approved by the HSE . The shocking revelation was contained within the second published report by Dr Gabriel Scally, the external expert appointed to investigate the cervical smear test scandal.
When Dr Scally began his work in 2016 he was led to believe that just six approved private laboratories were examining Irish smear samples. He has now established that samples were in fact being sent to an additional ten laboratories in locations ranging from Manchester to Hawaii.
Some of these laboratories no longer exist, making it impossible for Dr Scally or the HSE to directly examine the standard of testing within these facilities. Another laboratory in Salford without any independent accreditation tested over 90,000 samples. Suitable accreditation was only secured two months ago after it was requested by Dr Scally.
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
The fact that Dr Scally did not find any shortcomings within the tests conducted by the unapproved laboratories does not mean that such shortcomings do not exist. Establishing the standard of testing in laboratories that no longer exist present particular and obvious difficulties.
Some of the most damning commentary by Dr Scally relates to his belief that the HSE was more worried about the cost of screening than the quality of screening, as follows,
“It is my view, based on the documentation and expert opinion available to the Scoping Inquiry, that the tendering process appeared to move over time to place an increasing emphasis on price rather than quality,”
Equally damning is the assertion of a lack of transparency within the private laboratories, as follows,
“The lack of transparency by the major private sector laboratory companies about the precise locations of their screening services provided to CervicalCheck, and therefore to Irish women, is entirely unsatisfactory.”
Scally was only able to establish the true number of laboratories involved in the testing of Irish samples after many months of dogged investigation. It seems the culture of secrecy that saw doctors hide important information about their own health from their female patients extended to how the private laboratories interacted with the man tasked with investigating their work.
Varadkar’s Fake Outrage
Responding to the unapproved outsourcing of testing Leo Varadkar has said that it was “serious and unacceptable'“. The sincerity of these comments must be evaluated in the context of Fine Gael being fanatically committed to a neo-liberal economic model that calls for the systematic outsourcing of public services to the private sector.
The reality of Irish smear tests being examined in unapproved laboratories in Hawaii and unaccredited laboratories in Salford is the entirely predictable outcome of an ideology which asserts that private capital has a fundamental ‘right’ to generate profit from every aspect of human activity, including the provision of healthcare.
The outsourcing of testing by six approved private laboratories to ten unapproved private laboratories was the logical conclusion of the decision to outsource testing from the public sector to the private sector in the first place.
Varakar’s sincerity must also be measured against his own stint as Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016. Like decades of health ministers before him, he failed to deliver a coherent vision for his department, the HSE or public healthcare generally.
Instead he served out his time in what is seen as a politically problematic department by making a few politically beneficial tweaks to an already deeply dysfunctional system. And then he was off to catch a few social welfare cheats en route to assuming the position of Taoiseach.
In the intervening two years as Taoiseach, Varadkar has again failed to provide real leadership in healthcare. He continues to oversee a creaking two-tier healthcare systems that routinely provides healthcare on the basis of wealth not need - a dystopia that places the rights of capital ahead of the rights of citizens - an aberration from decency that allows doctors to deny women information about their own health and private corporations to deny information to those who are tasked with assessing their performance.
Towards An Irish National Healthcare Service
The recent unapproved outsourcing of testing cannot be separated from the original misreading of over 200 smear tests or the hiding of medical information from female patients or the avoidable premature deaths of an unknown number of women. All of these outrages have flowed from a political ideology that puts the desire for profit and the need to protect the powerful ahead of the interests of the population at large and women in particular.
Éirígí For A New Republic is calling for the creation of a new publicly funded Irish National Healthcare Service that will provide lifetime healthcare to all on the basis of need alone.
The development of such a system will require the political will to face down powerful vested interests in the private health sector and political opportunists who deem their own political careers to be of greater importance than a properly functioning health system.
We see the creation of an Irish NHS as a cornerstone of the New Republic that we want to build. If you’re ready to join the fight for the New Republic, please get in touch today.