“I said to (Simon Harris): ‘Basically, look, what has happened to me is awful, but, you know, I believe in this programme. I think that cervical smears do save women’s lives. What I don’t want to happen is that there will be more women diagnosed with cervical cancer, and I thought it was important that I come out and say that because I think people would listen to me, rather than the HSE at the moment.”
While Mooncoin native Vicky Phelan (43) was sharing her aforementioned story with Ray D’Arcy on RTE One, news broke that Professor Gráinne Flannelly, the Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, was resigning from her post.
Unusually, from an Irish perspective, a head has actually rolled in the public service due to a logic defying and inexplicable set of circumstances that, in all likelihood, has tragically cut short Vicky’s life.
And, as she disclosed over the weekend, she had been told that three other women whose smear results had to be audited have already died.
And by Monday morning, it had emerged that as many as 15 women may have died without knowing they had a delayed cervical cancer diagnosis.
This appalling news is compounded by the claim that all who died may have benefited from earlier cancer treatment, which underlines this tragic episode as one of our health service’s darkest hours.
The country is now talking about this devastating story largely due to the fact that Ms Phelan had waived a confidentiality clause the HSE had presented her with.
“Keep your mouth shut and we’ll pay you off, basically,” was how Ms Phelan described the HSE’s stance in relation to her own situation.
An inquiry is to be established to establish how and why Vicky Phelan (diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014) was given a false smear test result in the wake of the €2.5 million settlement reached on Wednesday last.
It’s worth recalling that an astonishing three years passed between the review of Ms Phelan’s smear test and her being informed of such a review. In a county where we’ve grown weary of institutional dithering, we have entered a new sphere in this instance because this is life and, death we’re dealing with. That we’ve reached such a juncture represents a systems failure of the worst imaginable kind.
“I was in shock when I was told,” Ms Phelan said on the steps of the High Court last Wednesday. “I am angry, extremely angry. If I was diagnosed I probably would have had to have a procedure and at worse a hysterectomy. If I was told sooner, I would not be in a position of a terminal cancer diagnosis.”
Said Vicky Phelan: “To know for almost three years a mistake had been made and I was misdiagnosed was bad enough but to keep that from me until I became terminally ill and to drag me through the courts to fight for my right to the truth is an appalling breach of trust. I truly hope some good will come of this case and there will be an investigation in the CervicalCheck programme as a result of this.”
Vicky Phelan’s remarkable stoicism has helped to shine a necessary light on an appalling wrong inflicted upon dozens, if not hundreds of Irish women. And her choosing to waive a HSE confidentiality clause is, in time, likely to save the lives of fellow cancer patients. The debt this country owes Vicky Phelan is beyond measure.