Telstra slammed for cancer screening failure
AROUND 80 Australian women could have developed cervical cancer because of serious delays in the rollout of a national cancer screening register by Telstra Health.
A unanimous Senate inquiry into the scandal has slammed the performance of Telstra Health and asked the government to consider cancelling its $220 million contract with the company citing serious underperformance in delivering the vital scheme.
It comes after an Auditor General's investigation found evidence that senior health department officials involved in the decision to award the contract failed to declare their Telstra shares as a potential conflict of interest.
The Senate inquiry found the tender evaluation process was so flawed the department could not rule out the possibility that Telstra Health may not have even won the contract if the department had followed its own tender evaluation plan.
More than 18 months after it was meant to begin the new cervical cancer register is still not fully operational and still relies on the old state and territory government system for key functions, the Senate found.
The new national bowel cancer screening register was meant to start in March 2017 but more than a year down the track the Department of Health still can't provide a start date for the register.
It is not clear whether Telstra Health has paid any financial penalties for their underperformance.
However, taxpayers have had to pay for the Department of Human Services and for state governments to continue providing registry services that should have been supplied by Telstra.
"The committee recommends whether, in the circumstances of such serious underperformance by Telstra Health, it may be in the Commonwealth's interests to terminate the contract and pursue other options for either or both registers," the report says.
Australians need the registers to remind them when their latest cancer screen is due in a bid to prevent deaths from two of Australia's biggest killers.
When she urged Parliament to act in haste to push the legislation setting up the register through the parliament in 2016 former health minister Sussan Ley said when fully operational the new program would save lives.
The scheme would "prevent an additional 140 cervical cancers each year" and decrease the mortality and morbidity (of cervical cancer) by at least 15 per cent" she said.
The Department of Health denies this outcome has occurred as a result of the delay because it says the old screening process remained in place using an inferior cervical screening test.
"The Liberal Government's disastrous handling of their own privatisation of the critical cancer screening register has cost taxpayers millions, and risked the lives of Australian women due to delays with the new cervical screening program replacing the old pap smear test," Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said.