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Public Representation at Gisborne Invaluable

Hon Phillida Bunkle

Media release
11 May 2000

Public Representation at Gisborne Invaluable

The Gisborne Inquiry into cervical screening has already shown the value of allowing parties to cross-examine witnesses, Alliance health spokeswoman Phillida Bunkle said today.

She said that there was already a range of options before the Government in the style of inquiry to be used when issues requiring investigation arise.

Ms Bunkle was commenting on Ministry of Health proposals that lawyers not be allowed to question or cross-examine witnesses at future inquiries or investigations because of the additional cost and length of time taken to complete.

She said it was important to note that what had been suggested was merely an idea of the Health of Ministry, on which the Government had sought further advice and consultation.

"I cannot help but be relieved that parties at the Gisborne Inquiry have had the ability to question and cross examine Ministry of Health officials and experts at the cervical screening inquiry.

"What we have learned in the past few weeks – much of it as a direct result of questioning from parties represented at the hearing - has been invaluable in both increasing the public's understanding of the issue and, in assisting the Inquiry team's search for the truth."

"I do have to wonder what has motivated them to suggest this change to future inquiries. Perhaps they haven't wanted closer scrutiny of their resistance to then Health Minister Helen Clark's instructions on a quality control measure. It's apparent that ignoring her instruction contributed to the problems, now under investigation in Gisborne.

"If officials had only listened to Helen Clark then, the National Cervical Screening Programme would have been pulled back on track."

Ms Bunkle said she empathised with concerns about lengthy inquiries and resulting costs.

"Not all matters which require inquiry need to be dealt with on the scale of the Gisborne Inquiry. It has to be said that the Government does not rush into Ministerial Inquiries willy-nilly. In fact, I found it an enormous exercise to get the previous government to investigate the cervical screening problem. It is happening now only because of the immense lobbying and the Member's Bill I put forward."

Ms Bunkle said that in the Gisborne case, she believed it was impossible to scrutinise Dr Michael Bottrill's work without canvassing wider concerns and issues surrounding the implementation of a National Cervical Screening Programme.

She believed that concerns about multiple groups being represented at inquiries, and as a result adding the length and cost, were unfounded.

"I am confident that the Gisborne Inquiry panel has ensured that all questions put to witnesses have been relevant to the Inquiry process. It hasn't been a time-wasting exercise. You need only to look at the facts which have emerged over the past several weeks," she said.

Important information that has come to light through the Inquiry to date includes:

 Testimony from Scottish pathologist Dr Euphemia McGoogan who described the programme as inept and lacking in professional leadership.

 The Department of Health defied the express wishes of then Health Minister Helen Clark in 1990, for a senior level manager to be appointed to run the cervical screening programme.

 Expert advice on implementation of the programme was also ignored by the department.

 The programme was under resourced and inadequately evaluated.

 Pathologist Dr Michael Bottrill was inadequately trained and his work inadequately evaluated and monitored.


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