Vicky Phelan is my hero. This brave woman is battling on all fronts.
Fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis, the Limerick-based mum has had a lot to contend with in life already, but after learning that a smear test from years before her cancer diagnosis had been wrongly given the all-clear, she started asking questions. She learned that she was not the only one to receive a false negative, according to an audit of results from the HSE.
Despite an attempt to pay her off and shut her up, she challenged the HSE and won.
Unedifying correspondence between doctors shows that Cervical Check just decided not to tell the women that they had been let down. They did decide, however, to make a note on files of deceased women that this had happened to them.The official cowardice is astonishing, contrasted with Vicky’s bravery.
She refused to stay silent and to allow the HSE to continue lying to other women in her situation. We don’t know how many other women have been in her shoes and agreed to remain silent, for fear their families would not be financially secure without a settlement. They may be out there, silently watching as Vicky tells all their story.
I wouldn’t blame them. A terminal diagnosis would turn most of us inward, concentrating on ourselves, our families and fighting for the time left to us. Vicky is bravery, tenacity and sacrifice personified.
In the short few days since we learned what happened to Vicky Phelan we have learned that 208 other women’s results were found in an audit to be incorrect. 17 of those women have died.
It’s hard to convey just how betrayed the women of Ireland feel by the latest health scandal.
Listening to callers to our programme and others on Friday and again yesterday, the sense of shock – and fear – was palpable.
None of us knows now whether we are one of the unlucky ones whose test was incorrect. And worse – someone else might know, but have made the decision on our behalf to keep us in ignorance.
Every testing service can fall victim to human error. Nobody ever wants to be the victim of a mistake, but we all know they can happen.
A former member of the National Cervical Screening Programme, Dr David Gibbons, warned 10 years ago that the rate of negative tests from the US lab in question was significantly higher than that of the previous provider in Ireland. He says now he warned the then head of Cervical Check – Tony O’Brien, currently CEO of the HSE – that this situation could happen.
We know mistakes happen, but we believed that if they did, they would be addressed, and that measures would be taken to minimise them. Neither of these things happened.
The HSE knew there was a likelihood of mistakes being made. And the HSE decided, on a corporate level, to cover them up when they did happen. Collusion and cover-up from the top down, and yet again the patient is the last to find out or be considered.
So women who have symptoms, women who don’t have symptoms, women who attend for their smears like clockwork and women who don’t, are all left wondering. And now that the system has proven so questionable, can we trust a retest? Can we trust the system, our GPs and consultants to tell us the truth? Or can we trust nothing beyond the knowledge that they will all just look after their own interests?
As all of this has unfolded, the only one who has appeared to feel that women should know the facts about their own healthcare are not the doctors who took an oath or the politicians who promised to work in the public interest, but a dying mother of two.
The Herald, 01.05.18