Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he shares Vicky Phelan's desire to bring some good from her tragic circumstances and promised to do so this year.
Responding to sharp criticism from Ms Phelan who accused him of being “all talk and no action” Mr Varadkar said he “respected and admired” her for seeking to force change in the cervical check system.
He gave a commitment to make the health service “open and honest” by making it a legal requirement for doctors to disclose test results and mistakes.
“One of the things I respect and admire most about Vicky Phelan is that she would like something good to come out of the tragedy that has affected her. I share that objective. That means reforming our health service so it becomes more honest and more open and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
He said the Government is bringing in legislation to make it a legal requirement to engage in open disclosure and secondly by making cervical cancer a very rare disease.
“And we can do that by bringing in HPV vaccine for boys and improving screening by bringing in the new smear tests. Both of these things are going to happen this year. The Irish public and the women of Ireland have my commitment that will make those things happen working closely obviously with Minister Harris,” he said.
Asked if the drug Pembro is to be made available to all patients of cervical cancer, Mr Varadkar said it is the intention to make the drug more widely available in lines with clinical guidelines.
“My understanding is that we are putting in place a medicines management programme which means it will be in place for patients with cervical cancer. But obviously, that will have to be guided by the medical guidelines and not a case of patients deciding individually that they would like to have a particular medicine. It would have to be prescribed by a consultant and adhere to those guidelines,” he said.
Speaking at the weekend, Ms Phelan praised Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for his efforts to improve screening standards and provide better treatment for cervical cancer patients.
“I wouldn’t have that same confidence in the Taoiseach, put it that way. He doesn’t inspire me with confidence,” Ms Phelan said.
“I think he is very much ‘all talk’ and ‘no action’, and I just don’t get (the) sense, that he thinks this is as important as what it is really, when you consider half the population in the country are women, and every woman in this country has to have a smear,” she added.