CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan has criticised the Health Minister after it was announced that the long-awaited CervicalCheck Tribunal will begin next week.
Stephen Donnelly brought a memo to Cabinet proposing Tuesday, October 27 as the start date for the tribunal which will investigate negligence in the State's cancer screening programme.
The tribunal was intended to be established by the end of March 2020 but this was delayed due to Covid-19.
Writing on Twitter today, Ms Phelan said that CervicalCheck patient support group 221+ received a letter from Mr Donnelly's office to inform them the tribunal would begin next week at the same time as the announcement was made.
"As we have become used to, those most affected are often the last to know," she said adding that the group were not given an opportunity to respond to the decision ahead of the announcement.
At a Zoom meeting with Mr Donnelly and Department of Health officials six weeks ago, the group outlined aspects of the proposed tribunal that were a cause of concern.
Ms Phelan said yesterday's response was "a flat rejection of all of our concerns".
The group had asked for a non-adversarial route to be found for the tribunal, one that wouldn't oblige women to fight the labs.
Pointing to Patricia Carrick's High Court case and the Supreme Court case taken by the late Ruth Morrissey, Ms Phelan said the cases reaffirmed that it was not necessary for women to sue the laboratories involved.
"Women could instead rely on the non-delegable duty owed to them by the HSE, who were found primarily responsible for the cervical screening programme in the Morrissey case," Phelan said.
"The HSE could then rely on their contractual and legal indemnities against the lab."
Ms Phelan, who is living with terminal cervical cancer, said Mr Donnelly rejected the arguments and his letter set out how the laboratories must be involved in proceedings if taken before the tribunal.
"This will not be acceptable to many of our members."
Another point of concern presented at the meeting, was that applicants to the tribunal who receive an award should be allowed to return should they suffer a recurrence of their cancer.
Today, Ms Phelan said applicants to the CervicalCheck Tribunal should be treated in the same way that applicants before the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal were.
Applicants to that tribunal were allowed to return where their health had deteriorated.
The Health Minister's letter did not address this issue.
A third concern - which was also not addressed in the letter - was the issue of the Statute of Limitations.
According to Ms Phelan, some members have received legal advice that they may now be statute-barred because they did not issue High Court proceedings based on the Government's promise of a non-adversarial tribunal.
"These members may now, through no fault of their own, be statute-barred because of delays by Government of more than two years in establishing this Tribunal."
She added that the needs of those affected by the CervicalCheck controversy were not being prioritised.
"We had been given to believe that it was the needs of the women and families affected by the CervicalCheck debacle and not those of the HSE and the labs that were to come first in the Government's response to the terrible wrongs visited upon our members."
Ms Phelan concluded by asking Stephen Donnelly to reconsider launching the tribunal next week and to redouble efforts to sit down with the members of 221+ again to find an alternative solution of redress.
She said that it is what members have asked for and it is what they deserve.
If the Health Minister does not do so, Ms Phelan said that they would recommend 221+ members not to participate in the CervicalCheck Tribunal in its current format should it go ahead next week.