She has been “let down by our Government and by our health service” but cervical cancer patient advocate Vicky Phelan says she is now asking people to “trust the people who are leading our country” as we “need to show solidarity at this time, and work together”.
Ms Phelan was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and was given the all-clear after aggressive treatment. However, in 2017, during a routine checkup, she was told by her gynaecologist that an audit carried out by CervicalCheck found that her 2011 smear test had been reported as a false negative. Weeks later, a CT scan revealed the cancer had returned. This time the diagnosis was terminal.
“I am no stranger to impossible challenges,” she says.
“I have had to face many of them in my life: A life-threatening car accident in early adulthood, multiple battles with depression, a cancer diagnosis which is now terminal, my daughter Amelia’s diagnosis with a rare congenital disorder and the worst thing, of everything, Amelia’s accident at the age of seven in which she suffered severe burns.”
She admits that she was “not happy with this Government’s performance in key areas such as health, housing, and homelessness and their prioritisation of the economy over people”. She understands that there are “many people who do not trust our Government and who feel let down and may even be afraid”.
However, she says that “now is not the time to jump ship” and urges people to do their bit to support the Government, the HSE, and the Department of Health in trying to contain coronavirus.
Meanwhile, she welcomed yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a High Court ruling that cervical smear screeners should have no doubts about samples before giving them the all-clear.
The HSE and two laboratories involved with the CervicalCheck screening programme had appealed against the €2.1m award to Ruth Morrissey who sued after her cervical smear tests were misread.
In that initial case, it was ruled that screeners should have “absolute confidence” in their readings.
Ms Phelan said: “As a woman who has cervical cancer and who is going to die, are we not entitled to have absolute confidence in slides and what the screeners are looking for?
“Surely we want to have the best possible approach to screening for women.”
Asked on RTÉ’s DriveTime what she thought this meant for screening in Ireland now, she said: “The HSE has been found to have a primary liability for the screening programme.
“They can no longer shift the responsibility to the labs. It is not the labs that run the program here in Ireland, it is the HSE.
“I think that is an important step for women who want to take action further down the line and for the establishment of a tribunal.”