'I never want to see this happen again' - Vicky Phelan applauded after 'harrowing' PAC appearance
CERVICAL screening scandal victim Vicky Phelan has told TDs; "I want to see change happen, we never want to see this happen again."
She has told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that she wants to see the people involved held accountable and the HSE overhauled "from the ground up" as well as a commitment that the failures that have been exposed never happen again.
She added that "over my dead body, I’m going to keep at this. Simple as that."
The storm over cervical scandal screening emerged after details of Vicky Phelan’s legal action emerged last month.
Terminally-ill mother-of-two Ms Phelan, from Annacotty, Co Limerick, was awarded €2.5m in a High Court settlement with a US lab after she got an incorrect smear test result.
Mr Phelan outlined how that 2011 smear test came back normal.
However, she went to her doctor in 2014 after experiencing bleeding and had another test. She was diagnosed with cancer that year. Ms Phelan said the symptoms had been mild and this is something other women need to know.
The cancer spread beyond her cervix and Ms Phelan underwent a five week course of radiation and chemotherapy.
She described this as "five weeks of hell" but that she was lucky she didn't lose her hair as her son loves it.
The treatment ended on her 40th birthday.
However, she had back pain since she finished treatment and had a check up in September 2017 and later found out the cancer was back.
It had spread and was affecting vital organs and Ms Phelan was told it was terminal.
She also discovered that her 2011 smear test had been incorrect and began her legal action in January.
She said there are issues of open disclosure in her case as there was 15 months of correspondence about who would tell her about the incorrect smear test.
Ms Phelan told TDs: "The misdiagnosis in my case it has cost me my life. I’ve got terminal cancer.
"I don’t believe I’m going to die but I have to fight for my life every day."
She said the incorrect 2011 smear test was either as a result of incompetence or it wasn't looked at at all as it was "full of cancer".
Ms Phelan said 18 women caught up in the scandal have died.
She said: "At least I’m still here to tell the tale and that’s why I’m fighting with everything in my being."
Stephen Teap is also appearing before the PAC.
His wife Irene, also a mother-of-two, died of cervical cancer last year having twice been given the all-clear in smear tests carried out in 2010 and 2013. Mr Teap described the morning he went to meet a consultant to discuss the audit of the cervical screening programme.
He said he was in a waiting room wondering if other victims were being brought in and told about it at the same time when a family and a 13-year-old girl sat behind him.
He said he asked the family if they were among the women who were affected and the mother replied: "yeah, and you?"
“I said: ‘Yeah, we are one of the 17,’ to which the girl got up and walked out of the room clearly upset.
"We waited there with that family for half an hour before we were brought in to see the consultant. The consultant we went to see was actually the consultant Irene saw on day one."
Opened on the table was Irene’s file with CervicalCheck’s audit results.
“He showed us there were two sides to this paper. On the left were the results her GPs would have been given and on the right hand side of the page were the results of these two smear tests that had been audited.
"She was led to believe these were all clear. In 2010 she was told to come back in three years. In 2013 she was told to comeback in three to five years.
"When these were audited it turns out the 2010 had per-cancerous cells in it.”
Mr Teap said he asked what would have happened if this had been detected at the time and was told she would have been brought back in and treated.
“Chances are she would have gone and lived the rest of her life,” he said.
He said the 2013 results were most concerning because they had “the beginnings of cancer in the smear test”.
He criticised the HSE and the Department of Health, saying they were not focused on disclosure or patient welfare.
“This lack of open disclosure within the HSE is clearly an issue.
“Clearly, up the ladder, patient care is diluted.”
Mr Teap said: "Clearly the HSE needs to be reformed, particularly at a senior level".
He urged the organisation to "put patient care at the backbone of the HSE right up to senior management".
He stressed the importance of communications with patients. He said mandatory disclosure will be "useless" unless there are sanctions against individuals that don't comply with it.
There was applause from PAC members after both Ms Phelan and Mr Teap spoke.
The committee's chairman Seán Fleming thanked them for telling their "harrowing" stories.
He said members had heard their testimony about the "failures of the State" and "everything will have been in vain if there are no fundamental changes in the future".