Sunday 21 October 2018

Vicky Phelan calls for 'urgent, prompt and public' investigation into cervical cancer scandal

  • Vicky Phelan calls for investigation 'that is both urgent and prompt but also public'
  • Publishes short statement on Twitter, addresses both Taoiseach and Health Minister in tweet
  • Solicitor Cian O'Carroll says any hearing should be held in a public forum
  • 'More will be known and a better decision can be made once the scoping inquiry has completed its work' - Mr O'Carroll
Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme
Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Denise Calnan and Kevin Doyle

Vicky Phelan has called for a Commission of Investigation "that is both urgent and prompt but also public" into the cervical cancer scandal.

The Limerick mum-of-two, who has terminal cervical cancer, exposed the cervical smear controversy after she settled her High Court action against a US laboratory for €2.5m.

It has emerged since that as many as 1,500 more women are at risk of being dragged into the continually escalating cervical cancer scandal.

Writing on Twitter this morning, Ms Phelan said "too much has already happened behind closed doors".

"As the woman who exposed this scandal, I want to see a Commission of Investigation that is both urgent and prompt but also PUBLIC. Too much has already happened behind closed doors. #CervicalCheckScandal," she wrote.

She later added; "In fairness, @SimonHarrisTD has been frank and honest in his discussions with me and his actions have been swift and reassuring."

Brave mum Vicky Phelan
Brave mum Vicky Phelan

Ms Phelan addressed her tweet to both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris following the revelation that an expert from outside of Ireland is to be recruited to conduct a preliminary investigation into the cervical cancer scandal.

The 'scoping exercise' will be expected to provide answers to many of the questions raised in recent days by the end of June.

Speaking on RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Ms Phelan's solicitor Mr Cian O'Carroll said any hearing should be held in a public forum.

He also said that a scoping exercise could be beneficial because it gives everyone an overview and also "would allow any key documents to come out at an early stage". He said a decision could then be made on a follow-up investigation.

ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins
ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins

"It would give people info they don't have at the moment," Mr O'Carroll said.

He said Commission of Investigations "are good - but they tend to be held in private."

"You just heard the thoughts of Vicky Phelan on that and I think she's right," he said.

"There are halfway houses which could be achieved perhaps through legislative change as well," Mr O'Carroll continued.

STRENGTH: Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Darragh. Photo: Fergal Phillips
STRENGTH: Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children Amelia and Darragh. Photo: Fergal Phillips

"One would be wary of going down the tribunal route if there wasn't an alternative.

"But any alternative must guarantee that the information that comes out, details of the wrongdoing of various parties, and allowing wopmen to tell their story if they so wish in a public forum, that must be achieved.

"But you have to strike a balance somewhere and that's where the scoping inquiry comes in.

"If a scoping inquiry can give a good sense of what has gone on, you simply have to take the next step.

"Unfortunately if you're before a forum where people's integrity is being questioned, they must be afforded the right to legal representation and the right to defend their name."

Mr O'Carroll said, in Ireland, there are traditionally two routes of investigation one can take.

"The choice is... we either go down the secretive route which can offer you a quicker remedy, or we must go down the more public forum.

"We've had a number of serious scandals in our health system, this one goes to affect so many people it does justify a public forum even if it does take longer and it does cost more money.

"More will be known and a better decision can be made once the scoping inquiry has completed its work."

Meeting

Health Minister Simon Harris met with Opposition TDs last night to agree a path forward. Sources who attended the meeting said there was broad agreement that the priority is to get quick answer to a list of key questions. While the option of establishing a full-blown Commission of Investigation remains on the table, it will not be invoked until after the initial process is completed.

The minister is to spend the coming days recruiting a suitable expert from outside of Ireland and will bring detailed proposals to Cabinet next Tuesday.

A source said: "The scoping exercise will be different from previous ones of this kind. It's objective will be to provide initial answers. It can also recommend terms of reference for a commission of investigation if this is viewed as necessary."

Two clinical reviews which are already underway will be feed into the inquiry.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said in the Dáil yesterday that the "most effective route to restoring confidence is for a competent, comprehensive inquiry that will get to the truth".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted there are "limitations to a Hiqa inquiry. "There are problems also with a commission of inquiry and what we know what they are as well."

The Labour Party has been particularly critical of the Hiqa approach originally proposed. They argued that it would not have the ability to take sworn evidence or the capacity to cross-examine personnel.

However, Mr Varadkar has expressed concerned that a commission would be a much more cumbersome and lengthy process as individuals were likely to hire legal representatives.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that women who suffered a delayed cancer diagnosis will have to wait until after the investigation to receive redress from the State.

Mr Varadkar said that the Government will look at "a scheme of redress for women whose cancer was missed and should have been detected beyond normal error and for women where there was a breach of duty to inform them of the audit results". But he indicated that compensation would not be paid out until all facts have been established.

Irish Independent

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