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Press Release

Minister for Health appoints Chair of the National Screening Committee

Published: 10 July 2019
From: Department of Health

Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, has announced the appointment of Professor Niall O’Higgins as Chair of the National Screening Committee.

The appointment follows an open competition for the position of chair. Professor O’Higgins brings a wealth of experience to the role. He was extensively involved in establishing a system of breast cancer services and in BreastCheck, the National Breast Cancer Screening Service.

He was also Chairman of the Expert Group on colorectal cancer screening in Ireland, a body that was critical to the development of BowelScreen.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister Harris said:

“Throughout his career, Professor O’Higgins has demonstrated himself as an authoritative and respected voice in our healthcare system. He will continue to bring the skill, qualifications and experience to this vital role."
"Screening has faced a number of challenges over the past year and the work of the screening committee will play a vital role in helping us to educate the population about screening, its limits and ultimately increasing our screening rates across the country."
“The committee will play a significant role in the further development of all population screening programmes in Ireland. I recently met with Professor O’Higgins and asked that the screening committee prioritise a review of the national newborn bloodspot screening programme and specifically how to progress with its expansion in line with international best practice. I am grateful Professor O’Higgins has agreed to this.”

Professor O’Higgins said:

“In societies in which good medical care is delivered, abundant evidence is available throughout the world that good screening programmes prevent disease, render potentially fatal disease curable, improve the quality of life among those affected and confer social and economic benefits to society. Screening programmes can improve a nation’s health and the health of a nation."

Drawing on best practice and expertise from programmes in the United Kingdom and across Europe, the Committee will develop a set of criteria to be applied to new applications and to evaluate them against internationally-recognised standards.

He added:

“Restoring trust in screening is crucial and will be the priority for my term as Chair. I would like to thank the Minister for my appointment and I look forward to reporting on our future deliberations to the Department of Health, the HSE, other stakeholders and of course to the public. I am confident that the National Screening Committee can play a significant part in restoring public confidence on the proven advantages of population screening to the health of our nation."


Notes to the Editor:

The Scally Report (2018) recommended the establishment of a National Screening Committee.

The National Screening Committee will be an independent Expert Advisory Committee responsible for considering population screening programmes in Ireland against internationally accepted criteria.

Following on from the appointment of Prof Niall O’Higgins to the position of Chair, the remaining membership of the Committee will be recruited through an open call for membership in the coming months.

The Committee will hold its inaugural meeting later in 2019.


Niall O’Higgins is Professor Emeritus of Surgery, University College Dublin. Prof O’Higgins graduated from Medical School in University College Dublin and received his surgical training in Ireland and England.

He was appointed the Professor and Chair of the University College Dublin Department of Surgery and Consultant Surgeon (St Vincent’s University Hospital) in 1977, a position he held for over 30 years.

Prof O’Higgins is a general surgeon with special interest in surgical oncology, especially breast cancer. He’s been involved in over 300 scientific publications, mainly on breast cancer research and clinical surgery. He is Co-editor of a major textbook of surgery.

He is a former Chairperson of the University of Limerick Hospital Group.

He received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and of the American College of Surgeons. He was awarded Honorary Fellowships from the College of Surgeons of South Africa, Bangladesh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He received the President’s Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Prof O’Higgins is former President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, of the European Society of Surgical Oncology (1994-1998), and of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (1997-1999) and former Chairman of the Accreditation Council for Oncology in Europe (ACOE). He was also Chairman of the Editorial Board of the European Journal of Surgical Oncology (EJSO) from 2001 to 2008.

He was extensively involved in establishing a system of symptomatic breast cancer services and in BreastCheck, the National Breast Cancer Screening Programme and in the establishment of guidelines of quality of care for breast cancer in Ireland and in Europe. He was also Chairman of the Expert Group on colorectal cancer screening in Ireland, a group that was pivotal in the establishment of BowelScreen – The National Bowel Screening Programme.

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