The doctor who is leading the preliminary investigation into the cervical cancer controversy has expressed concern about the "fevered atmosphere" around the issue.

Members of the Cabinet were this morning briefed on correspondence from Dr Gabriel Scally, who has been appointed to lead the preliminary inquiry.

In the correspondence, seen by RTÉ News, Dr Scally said that he was making progress in the investigation and had spoken to many of the women affected, including Vicky Phelan.

Dr Scally also expressed concern that what he described as the "current fevered atmosphere is posing some problems".

He said some key individuals and organisations are being distracted by the necessity to appear before Oireachtas committees and answer questions.

Dr Scally said in order to get the full co-operation of the organisations involved, he would need to be able to gain their full attention.

He also said he would do his best to get the full picture of what went wrong for the women and their families and what the next steps should be to address the issues.

Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Dáil this evening that he expected an interim report from Mr Scally's inquiry at the beginning of next month.

The Department of Health has published 122 pages of documents relating to its knowledge of issues relating to the screening controversy.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this afternoon that the documents show no concerns were raised about the cervical screening programme with the department and the issues were not escalated to advisors, ministers or the secretary general.

At the moment, there is a row between the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Health Committee about who should be looking at the matter. 

The chair of the Health Committee, Dr Michael Harty, has written to the Ceann Comhairle stating that it is not appropriate for the PAC to look at the controversy as it is outside of its remit.

It comes ahead of a PAC meeting tomorrow, which will hear from Ms Phelan and Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer last summer.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges has decided that this PAC meeting should proceed tomorrow.

However, the committee has not adjudicated on whether the Health Committee or the PAC should proceed and investigate the controversy at the same time.

HSE needs to be 'slimmed down' - Varadkar

The Taoiseach has said that the HSE was a massive organisation that needed to be slimmed down.

Arriving at Government Buildings this morning, Mr Varadkar said the Government would establish a new national board to oversee the HSE.

He said the Government would also establish boards at local level throughout the country in line with Sláintecare recommendations, which will bring hospital groups together along with community heath organisations.

Mr Varadkar said this would slim down the national centre and give much more regional and local accountability.

Asked if this was going back to the old model of a health board, the Taoiseach said the new national board would be smaller with an executive chairman, a skill-based membership and not one where people turn up to meetings once a month.

Mr Varadkar's comments came as the re-establishing of a board to oversee the operation of the HSE featured on the Cabinet agenda this morning.

Draft legislation to give effect to the move to strengthen governance in the health system was outlined by Minister Harris.

For almost three weeks the CervicalCheck crisis has dominated the political agenda, leading to the early departure of the head of the HSE Tony O'Brien.


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The previous board was abolished in 2011. It is understood it is the minister's intention that the legislation will be passed by the summer. If that happens then the new board will oversee the appointment of Mr O'Brien's successor.

A Sinn Féin motion on a mandatory open disclosure by health staff was debated in the Dáil this evening. 

The motion seeks to ensure that it be made a criminal offence for any health service worker of any grade, or any official within the Department of Health or the HSE to withhold information about a patient's medical diagnosis or misdiagnosis, or to mislead a patient or their nearest relative about an incident.

The party's health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said the motion is not an effort to punish health care professionals, but is essential for change. 

"The experiment with voluntary open disclosure has not been a success," she told the Dáil.

Ms O'Reilly said Sinn Féin's motion called for the rebuilding of trust, and central to this was full disclosure to patients. She told the Dáil that many working in health care agreed with this.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith proposed an amendment to the otion, calling for end the outsourcing of smear tests to the private sector.

She said said she had tried, unsuccessfully, to find out which labs were responsible for the women who received incorrect smear test results.

The Government has said it will not oppose Sinn Féin's motion.

Minister Harris told the Dáil that in not opposing the motion, the Government was committing to progress legislation to provide for mandatory open disclosure to patients and regulators. 

He said provisions for mandatory open disclosure will be in the Patient Safety Bill, telling the Dáil that "patients must be informed".

He also said that there would be at least one patient advocate appointed to the new board of the HSE.

"This is an inquiry that we need answers to quickly," he said.

Additional reporting: Joe Mag Raollaigh, Conor McMorrow, Justin McCarthy, Edel McAllister