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CervicalCheck tribunal ‘not fit for purpose’

Vicky Phelan said the CervicalCheck tribunal is a ‘slap in the face’ to the affected women and their families.

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Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

The tribunal established to investigate negligence in Ireland’s cancer screening programme is “not fit for purpose”, a leading campaigner has said.

Vicky Phelan said the CervicalCheck tribunal is a “slap in the face” to the affected women and their families.

Ms Phelan, whose court case triggered the cervical smear test controversy, has called for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to meet members of the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group.

Mr Donnelly said the tribunal is to be established next Tuesday.

Why is it so hard to do what is right by women who have already been failed by the state?Vicky Phelan

Ms Phelan has urged the minister to reconsider the plans and listen to concerns raised by the women.

“Why is it so hard to do what is right by women who have already been failed by the state?” she told RTE.

“That’s what is at stake here. We have been waiting for it for two years, engaged with the minister in the last seven weeks and none of our concerns were taken on board.

“Then to announce that this tribunal is going to be established in the next seven days just feels like slap in the face to all of us who have been involved in this for the last number of months.

“I don’t see the point in launching a tribunal and establishing a tribunal for a group of people for whom this is not fit for purpose, and who do not accept it as it currently stands.

“We would ask the minister to reconsider establishing the tribunal and sit down with the people involved.”

Among the issues raised are the adversarial nature of the process and the statute of limitations.

They also say that women who get a recurrence of cancer should be able to return to the tribunal.

“I am really weary from all the fighting. I really thought the tribunal was a good outcome for all the women and families, yet here we are two years later and nowhere nearer having something that is for the women and has women at its heart,” Ms Phelan added.

Her comments come a year after Leo Varadkar apologised to the women and families who suffered from a “litany of failures” in the cervical screening scandal.

The Government should not be joining with these labs in fighting with these women and their familiesLouise O'Reilly

Mr Varadkar apologised for the “humiliation, disrespect and deceit” shown by the state.

More than 200 women were affected by failures in Ireland’s CervicalCheck screening system.

It emerged in 2018 that 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly told the Dail on Thursday: “Against their wishes and pleas for a non-adversarial route, the (health) minister has flatly ignored these calls, instead insisting the labs must be involved in the proceedings.

“This is entirely wrong.

“The Government should not be joining with these labs in fighting with these women and their families. A decent government would stand up for these women and protect them and ensure they worked with them to get the justice they deserve.”

Ms O’Reilly called for the Tanaiste to intervene before next Tuesday.

Referring to the issues around a non-adversarial route, Mr Varadkar said there can be disputes about the facts.

“I don’t think it would be fair to deny a scientist or doctor the right to be heard, the right to say ‘I wasn’t negligent, I read the smear correctly’,” he added.

“I haven’t seen anyone yet who has managed to come up with a solution to that other than to refuse people to make a defence and I don’t see how that will work.”

Mr Donnelly said: “What is driving everything we are doing here is trying to find the best way forward for the 221+ group, it’s why the tribunal was established.

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Campaigners Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh at the launch of the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group in Dublin (PA)

Campaigners Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh at the launch of the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group in Dublin (PA)

PA

Campaigners Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh at the launch of the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group in Dublin (PA)

“The advice I have from the AG (Attorney General) is the statute of limitations issues, whilst a matter for the Minister for Justice, is dealt with and is now before the High Court.

“My concern is that if we don’t go with the tribunal, we end up back in the courts.

“The women involved can take cases against the state, but negligence has to be established, and that means the state has to bring the labs in.

“The tribunal is being established so we have it in place, no one is being asked to use, no one is compelled to use it. It’s in place for nine months.”

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