It is now over three years since we first heard about the bravery and determination of terminally ill Vicky Phelan who took a case to the High Court and won.
Thanks to Vicky Phelan and her voice as an advocate for women`s health, we have learned a lot of about our Cervical Cancer Screening Programme not least why the HSE decided to withhold smear test auditing results as part of a disclosure process and didn’t want that non-disclosure to become public knowledge.
What was ultimately exposed by Vicky Phelan and her fellow campaigners came to be known as the Cervical Check scandal, a public health controversy that has rarely been out of the news ever since and for good reason.
Not only a scandal, this is an enduring national tragedy given the many women who have died leaving behind grieving husbands, partners, children, parents and siblings struggling to cope and still searching for answers.
Let us also not forget the women and families living and suffering with terminal diagnoses and the women who have thankfully survived.
Back in May 2018, the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in acknowledging the bravery and hardship suffered by Vicky Phelan promised the women and families impacted that no woman in similar circumstances would have to go through the Courts to get answers and redress
Later that year following a scoping enquiry by the independent public health expert, Dr Gabriel Scally, the Government promised a Tribunal would be set up where women could go “quickly and privately” to have their cases dealt with.
Then in July 2019, another potential scandal erupted affecting several thousand women as a result of a laboratory computer “IT glitch” exposed by our Client, Ms Sharon Butler Hughes.
The significance and urgency of this led to the HSE commissioning a “Rapid Review Report” undertaken by Professor Brian MacCraith to determine why women and their GP`s were encountering delays in issuing cervical check screening HPV retest results.
Sharon`s unwavering commitment and contribution as a patient advocate in her own right, in making the Cervical Check Programme better and safer for us all is well worth noting, Claire Byrne interview Tuesday 25th May 2021 .
Unfortunately however, Sharon subsequently withdrew her support of the MacCraith report due to a disputed version of a critical telephone call conversation with a Department of Health official in July 2019.
Needless to say this was a very difficult decision for Sharon. However it does not take from the fact all of the recommendations in the MacCraith Report have been implemented for which Sharon should be very proud.
In October 2019, in recognition of the ongoing scandal and tragedy the Irish State issued an Apology to all the women and families affected for the “humiliation, disrespect and deceit” and “litany of failures”.
The following March 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the HSE, Quest Diagnostics and Medlab Pathology Limited in the case taken by the late Mrs Ruth Morrissey RIP who had to battle her way through the Courts while also battling her terminal illness.
Mrs Morrissey tragically died within months of this seminal Judgement which upheld the majority of the findings of her High Court case in particular the highly controversial standard of care principle known as “The Absolute Confidence Test”.
So where are we now, three plus years on?
Notwithstanding the promises of the former Taoiseach and his Government the heralded “non adversarial” Tribunal was not established until late 2020.
It`s remit has been the subject matter of much criticism, public and political so much so that many well-known advocates including the 221plus organisation have refused to endorse it, deeming it “not fit for purpose”.
Incredibly, official reports have confirmed only 3 cases have been submitted to the Tribunal to-date out of several hundred cases of women and families of women who have died.
Shockingly, this Tribunal has cost us the tax-payer €2.5 million (and rising) to set up and there have been stories about expensive art-work adorning the walls of it`s newly fitted out offices.
Apart from the cost, one of the main criticisms of the remit of the Tribunal is the fact couples are not eligible to pursue joint cases and many women who had hoped to avail of the Tribunal option were unable to do so because they had literally run out of time under the Statute of Limitations to submit their case.
My personal criticism of the Tribunal is the fact it`s rules permit only one medical expert per side and this is provided for in the Terms of Reference which warrant close reading (Terms of Reference link here)
Anyone who is currently pursuing a case knows this is fundamentally arbitrary and makes no sense whatsoever given the multi-disciplinary field of specialist expert evidence required to even bring a case, let alone succeed
Meanwhile the number of cases currently registered with the State Claims Agency (the insurer of the HSE) is 284 with 185 live cases currently awaiting dates before the Courts.
These cases are against the HSE, various Laboratories and in some instances doctors with new potential cases emerging all the time.
I write this article with a heavy heart as I had hoped for the sake our Clients, their families and everyone impacted that we would be through and beyond this tragic scandal by now.
In conclusion I would like to respectfully pay tribute to the late Orla Church RIP and her wonderful family.
Orla died in January 2019.
Orla was a campaigner in her own right, a formidable advocate for Women`s Health, indeed a Power-House. Here is the link to her interview with Joe Duffy.
I was privileged to know Orla. Her courage and wisdom will always be a source of inspiration. Gone But Not Forgotten.
31st May 2021.