Sunday 23 September 2018

Vicky Phelan seeks funds to set up support group over cancer scandal

Vicky Phelan. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Vicky Phelan. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Vicky Phelan is to seek government funding for an independent advocacy group for the women and families impacted by the scandal.

The terminally ill mother- of-two who brought the cervical cancer debacle to light is setting up the support group as the Government comes under pressure to resource independent advocacy services for patients who need answers from the health system when things have gone wrong.

However, Ms Phelan said this weekend that an independent advocacy service was "essential" for all those harmed by the health service.

"There was nowhere for us to go. We had to set up all of this ourselves. The only people who had contact details for all of the women and families affected by this are the HSE, the very organisation we can't trust," said Ms Phelan, who is launching the group with Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer last year after two misread smear tests.

The two eventually made contact with other women by giving their phone numbers to Professor Gabriel Scally, who is interviewing women and families for his inquiry into CervicalCheck.

"Women are asking for information on lots of things, from fertility treatments for women who don't have kids but who have the potential to have them, to bereavement counselling for families, to sexual counselling, because this type of cancer affects your sex life and most of these women are young," Prof Scally said.

The Marie Keating Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society and Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients Association (IPA), and other independent advocates are helping Ms Phelan and Mr Teap to set up the group.

The last government promised to introduce an independent national advocacy service by 2016 after its inquiry into infant fatalities at Portloaise hospital but it failed to deliver.

The Department of Health's National Patient Safety Office is still working on a "model" for "a new patient advocacy service".

Resources for existing independent advocacy services for patients have dwindled. Patient Focus, which supported more than 100 women who suffered needless hysterectomies at the hands of Dr Michael Neary, was merged last month with Sage, an advocacy group for older people.

The IPA had its funding cut in 2013 and is meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris in the hope of having it restored.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was "fully committed" to establishing an independent patient advocacy service. It held a public consultation on the subject last year and is expected to publish a final report "shortly".

A patient safety ''complaints advocacy and training programme'' is also under development.

Sunday Independent

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