Sunday 15 September 2019

Being kept in the dark adds final insult to the grieving families at centre of crisis

Miriam O’Brien, right, with her sister Susan
Miriam O’Brien, right, with her sister Susan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The cloud of anonymous statistics is dissipating into the ether, leaving behind human faces with devastating stories.

Almost every day the CervicalCheck scandal brings forth fresh names and fresh tragedies to replace the bald figures.

But this time it is a little different, as today we learned of the death of a woman who may not even have been included in the statistics.

Miriam O’Brien (34), from Buncrana, Co Donegal, was a single mother who doted on her daughter Rachael (19).

She was a childcare worker who adored her job a short journey across the Border in Derry. She was a great friend to her sisters, Danielle and Susan, who joked that as the youngest of nine children, Miriam was “spoiled rotten”.

She was a fervent Donegal football supporter who never missed a match.

In her health she was vigilant and attended every smear appointment.

Heartbreakingly, Danielle and Susan revealed that after getting a diagnosis of cervical cancer, Miriam said: “Why did this happen to me? I did everything right.”

Susan emotionally noted how she heard the same words uttered by the partner of another woman affected by missed cancer, who said: “She did everything right.”

After alleged failures by the CervicalCheck system here, Miriam transferred her care across the Border. Within a month, she was diagnosed with stage IIB cancer.

Why was the NHS system so much more efficient than the HSE in this case?

Like far too many families affected by this scandal, her family are struggling to get answers. They wonder if Miriam has been counted by the authorities at all.

Was she one of the 18 women whose deaths have been logged? Was she one of the 209 women who went on to develop cancer after smears mistakenly came back clear? Was she one of the two women the authorities have said they have yet to contact following the revelations?

Or did she simply slip between the cracks because she transferred her care to the North?

Miriam’s case starkly portrays how the families at the centre of the CervicalCheck scandal have been propelled into a terrifying state of unknowing and are being kept in the dark.

Given the extent of the crisis, the appropriate thing for the authorities to do would be to mobilise, to do everything they can for these women and their families.

They should be working ceaselessly to supply the answers being desperately sought and to finally provide the support that had been so lacking in the past, even if it is too little, too late.

But it is appallingly clear that this is not happening.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died last year, appeared before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) during the week and told how two opportunities to diagnose her cancer were missed. He added if they hadn’t been, “she would have been with us here today”.

Despite all this, he still has not heard anything at all from the HSE.

He said there had been no support services for him to help his children Oscar (5) and Noah (3) through their bereavement.

During their PAC appearance, Stephen then turned to Vicky Phelan, terminally ill from cervical cancer and whose High Court settlement last month broke open the scandal, quietly asking her: “You haven’t heard anything?”

Vicky indicated that she had not.

And still, Danielle, Susan and Rachael wait impatiently to hear from the CervicalCheck programme to see if anyone can shed any light on what happened to their beloved Miriam.

Irish Independent

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