Life

Saturday 17 November 2018

Comment: There is something happening to women in Ireland right now. We're at breaking point

Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts
Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts

Jeanne Sutton

There is something happening to women in Ireland right now. We’re at breaking point.

Last week Vicky Phelan from Annacotty in county Limerick settled a High Court action for €2.5 million against a US laboratory.

Vicky Phelan may have more money than you or I, but I doubt she and her lawyers toasted the victory with prosecco. 

In 2011, Vicky Phelan had a smear test and was told she was fine. Vicky Phelan is now dying.

Vicky Phelan is 43. She has two children – they are 7 and 12-years-old. She has a husband, Jim. Vicky Phelan could have been saved. 

The test missed abnormalities. CervicalCheck, Ireland’s cervical screening programme, became aware of the mess-up in 2014 following an audit. They did not inform Vicky Phelan, who that same year had another smear test. Those results came back with a diagnosis: cancer.

In 2016, CervicalCheck told doctors about their patients’ result being audited. It would be another year until Vicky Phelan discovered that had she gotten the bad news in 2011, she may have been offered a preventative treatment. We now know that 206 other women with cervical cancer who took part in CervicalCheck should have received earlier intervention.

There will be more Vicky Phelans. They may not die of cervical cancer, but they will die.

Every Irish woman knows this.

We’re used to cases like Vicky Phelans and routine almost-manslaughters. 

Women up and down the country live in fear of being the next Vicky Phelan. The next Savita Halappanavar, who died in University Hospital Galway in 2012 of sepsis, days after suffering a miscarriage.

The next Susie Long, a public patient placed on a seven-month waiting list for a colonoscopy during which time her terminal bowel cancer spread.

The next clinically brain dead female body kept alive over Christmas, all because she is incubating a foetus and this is a nightmare we can live here.

The next Ann Marie Copse, dead at 23 in 2012 from bacterial meningitis. She presented at the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick with an earache and days later she died from acute bacterial meningitis. Last year, her family settled a High Court action against the HSE for over half a million euro. 

Every woman in Ireland right now, under a healthcare system which sees us as undeserving of full transparency and care, is a hostage to misfortune. This cannot go on.

We’re not even asking for much, just a small acknowledgement of our humanity. This isn’t politics. Every person who wants to think in the future tense should feel wretched in their bones. Women, half of the human race, deserve better.

Please listen to us, after all, we’re begging for our lives.  

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