Wednesday 16 October 2019

'You have to resign' - The public's letters to Varadkar during CervicalCheck scandal revealed

  • Taoiseach was called on to resign and
  • Accused of letting down the women of Ireland in series of angry letters
  • Letters reveal the behind-the-scenes storm and level of public fear
  • Many were frightened that they may also have received an incorrect reading
Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar
Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was called on to resign and accused of letting down the women of Ireland in a series of angry letters from the public as the CervicalCheck scandal raged.

One person wrote: "Thanks to you I feel like a second class citizen. I no longer feel like my life, nor the life of my mother, sisters, aunts and even children matter to you."

Another said: "You have to resign your position and you have failed the women of Ireland."

Some expressed frustration at the perceived distance he was keeping from the scandal and his failure to seek more accountability from high-ranking health officials, claiming he was too soft on former HSE chief Tony O’ Brien.

The depth of outrage and strong condemnation of out-sourcing testing to US laboratories in particular is revealed in correspondence addressed to the Taoiseach which has been released under Freedom of Information.

It reveals the behind-the-scenes storm and level of public fear about the quality of current cervical screening among women some of whom described feeling "terrified."

Several of the public expressed their distress after hearing the heartbreaking stories of women who received incorrect smear test results and went on to develop cervical cancer.

The failures only came to light in April, after a High Court case brought by Limerick mother of two Vicky Phelan that CervicalCheck had carried out lookback audits of tests after being informed of a woman’s cancer diagnosis.

The 209 audits - later revised to 221- confirmed the test result mistake but most of the women, or bereaved families of whose who died, were not informed.

It comes as Dr Gabriel Scally, a public health specialist, will deliver his report on the scandal to Health Minister Simon Harris later this week and it may go to Government the following Tuesday.

Vicky Phelan’s court case in April started the search for victims
Vicky Phelan’s court case in April started the search for victims

Many people who felt compelled to write to the Taoiseach were frightened that they may also have received an incorrect reading and demanded he arrange an audit of their test results.

"Surely, all tests should be audited at this stage, not just those who already have cancer," one said.

Another wrote: "For the country’s leader to take such a low profile role is a betrayal of the Irish people."

Another said: "You should be battling to disband the HSE. It is rotten to the core."

One woman said she had "never, ever contacted a minister in her life" but said "there are not enough words or in fact one word to convey the level of distrust I feel in the government."

Others berated him for not making it mandatory for health bodies to disclose to patients if a mistake has been made.

One quoted Justice Minister Charles Flanagan defence of voluntary disclosure as helping promote a "climate for cultural buy-in."

They commented "“I am sure Vicky Phelan and other victims of the HSE are delighted with the sentiment."

Others were clearly annoyed at what they saw as his attempts at "self promotion" and a widower of a cancer patient accused Health Minister Simon Harris of "clowning around" at photocalls which have nothing to do with the real issues his department faces.

Mr Varadkar has since faced public censure for making rash promises to CervicalCheck victims he could not keep, including his promise that the State would pay compensation and pursue the laboratories later if they were contesting claims.

Although the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment was passed in May, some of its supporters were among the critics who wrote to him in the CervicalCheck issue.

One woman who was supporting repeal hit out at the "hypocrisy" of the Government leading the campaign while at the same time presiding over cancer scandal and housing crisis.

"I must face the upsetting reality that there is very little integrity in your actions. If you claim to care about women's health then you must do so, not only in the midst of a topical, popular debate."

Since then Mr Varadkar has taken a number of measures and has agreed to hold all of the State cervical cancer investigation in public.

He also is looking at a redress scheme for victims as an alternative to going to court.

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