CervicalCheck campaigners have criticised the pace of change in the health service on the same day that a “watershed” State apology was delivered in the Dáil.
Their warning came as the Taoiseach took responsibility for the “litany of failures” and formally apologised to the mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and families caught up in the smear-test scandal.
Issuing a State apology in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar said he was sorry for the “humiliation, the disrespect, the deceit, the false reassurance, the attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle by some, and inaccuracies in claims from others — all of which added to confusion and public concern”.
However, patient representatives said nothing ever happens quickly enough in this country, and singled out the Department of Health for being difficult to work with, claiming it consistently tried to play down the scandal. Advocate Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer, said the words ‘I’m sorry’ will mean nothing if they are not followed up with actions.
The father of two said: “‘I’m sorry’ won’t change anything in my house when I go home tonight,” he said.
But all I can do for changing my world and moving forward in it is to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else in the future.
Mr Teap, who sits on the CervicalCheck steering committee along with Lorraine Walsh, hit out at the Department of Health for continuing to drag its heels when it comes to progress.
“We do find it difficult working with the Department to Health, but with the HSE they do try to work with us. Change is so slow at happening and we would be very critical of the pace of that, because we do want to see change,” he said.
“It’s frustrating and hurting to an awful lot of us in this when, after all of these reports that we’ve seen, when you see the Department of Health coming out and downplaying the situation, trying to dumb down exactly what happened, when we know the pain and suffering that has been caused in the background. So it was good to see that acknowledged today,” he said of the Taoiseach’s Dáil apology.”
Vicky Phelan, whose decision to go public following a High Court case against the HSE first highlighted the scandal, said there is still a lot of anger among women and their families, but the formal apology would help a lot of people to move on.
However, she was critical of the time it is now taking to implement changes in the healthcare system. She said:
Nothing ever happens quickly enough for anybody really in this country, there’s a lot to be done
Ms Phelan also took aim at the number of Government TDs who were not in the Dáil to witness the State apology.
While around 80 women and some of their family members packed into the public gallery to hear the Taoiseach’s comments, there were just 28 Fine Gael politicians in the chamber when Mr Varadkar rose to his feet.
“I do think there were far fewer politicians in the chamber than we would have liked, to be honest,” said Ms Phelan. “There could have been a few more there. Everybody has a wife, or a mother, or a daughter, so that was one thing I did notice. There was definitely a shortage,” Ms Phelan said.
Fellow 221+ campaigner Ms Walsh said the apology recognised the impact of the systematic incapacity that caused the CervicalCheck scandal.
“What must follow is that those with the power to do so will work to establish the governance structures, the oversight, the management capacity, and the quality assurance checks which are vital to ensure that these failures will never happen again,” said Ms Walsh.