Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s condolences on the death of campaigner Ruth Morrissey must be particularly galling to the family of the 39-year-old who died on Sunday because of “grievous mistakes” in the cervical cancer screening programme.
In a powerful and damning statement, her husband Paul Morrissey laid bare the “broken promises” of the former Taoiseach who said no other woman of the 221 affected by the CervicalCheck scandal would have to go to court.
Despite that, Ruth Morrissey was used as a “test case” and spent the final two years of her life fighting the HSE and two laboratories over the misreading of cervical smear tests that, ultimately, caused her death.
As fellow campaigner Lorraine Walsh put it: “The State battled with her every day of her life for the last few years.”
One particularly moving account described how the Limerick woman spent most of her daughter’s seventh birthday sitting on a hard bench in the High Court. No financial settlement can compensate for the loss of that special time.
At least she lived to see her case settled. Last week, the Supreme Court was told that she and her husband Paul had been paid the €2.16m damages awarded them by the High Court.
A spokesperson said Leo Varadkar had, in 2019, apologised to all woman affected by the scandal, but Ruth Morrissey never got a personal apology. “Now it is too late,” her husband said.
It is not too late, however, to honour the considerable legacy she has left behind. Thanks to her relentless fight, it has been firmly established that screening programmes should have “absolute confidence” in their decision if they are giving a sample the all-clear.
In years to come, we should tell our daughters how that came about.
Meantime, the Government owes it to Ruth Morrissey and the other women who have died to take action now. They must implement all the recommendations in the Scally reports, the independent expert panel review, and the Prof MacCraith review.
To date, the HSE has taken action on 95 of the 116 recommendations, or about 80%. It is good progress, but one that should continue to be overseen by allowing a patient advocate from the 221+ patient support group sit on the oversight committee.
It is also time to get the CervicalCheck Tribunal up and running. It is a full year, almost to the day, since the CervicalCheck Tribunal Act 2019 passed into law on 23 July.
It was unfortunate that two of the three judges due to sit on the three-person tribunal cannot, for various reasons, take up their positions. But we cannot let Covid-19 unnecessarily delay a response to a debacle that has affected more than 500 Irish women.
Indeed, the new government must also turn its attention to the issue of cancer screening in general. Some 450 cancers and 1,600 pre-cancers are likely to have gone undetected because of a break in screening services due to coronavirus, the Irish Cancer Society told an Oireachtas committee last week.
Covid-19 has the potential to kill, but so too does undetected cancer. Cancer must not become the forgotten ‘C’ during coronavirus, the society said. At the very least, the government owes it to Ruth Morrissey to take action that reflects this.