Monday 11 November 2019

Editorial: 'Yes, an apology was needed but action would be better'

Members of the public queue to hear Taoiseach Leo Varadkar make a formal statement of 'Acknowledgement and Apology' on behalf of the State to the women and families affected by the CervicalCheck debacle. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Members of the public queue to hear Taoiseach Leo Varadkar make a formal statement of 'Acknowledgement and Apology' on behalf of the State to the women and families affected by the CervicalCheck debacle. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Editorial

Editorial

In medicine, pain is seen as a messenger which must be listened to. Not so much in politics.

When news of the cervical smear test scandal broke, an outpouring of sympathy followed.

It was led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and echoed by Health Minister Simon Harris.

In a tide of emotion, missing was the urgent action to care for the women caught in the storm.

Soothing words were spoken, but talk has seldom proved cheaper.

The critical reassurance the 221 women directly affected so desperately needed - or a sense they were even being heard - would have to wait. Hundreds more uncertain of their test results were also left worrying for months.

Outrage is one of the most popular intoxicants of our time, so striking the right note has never been more important. The Government grasped at appearing indignant on the women's behalf, it would strive to be their champion.

But its efforts were unconvincing.

Mr Varadkar vowed ill women would not be "dragged" through the courts. The commitment soon sounded hollow amid allegations of an "aggressive" legal approach to the terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who died last year.

Apart from having to fight to stay alive, some also had to fight for justice.

Lawyers for one laboratory even looked at having the children of a victim assessed by a psychologist to determine the impact on them of the impending death of their mother.

No surprise then, when Dr Gabriel Scally - tasked with reviewing how the State handled such cases - found the system "deeply flawed".

"It (the legal system) takes an error and converts it into an injustice and then converts that into a financial sum," he said.

For patients to get the truth, they must go to law.

Dr Scally spoke of a total failure in which some women were treated appallingly.

When Mr Varadkar stood up to say sorry yesterday, he had a litany of breakdowns to address.

He apologised for "the humiliation, disrespect and deceit, the false reassurance, the attempts to play down the seriousness of this debacle".

To hear such a catalogue of calamity called for what it was may give some comfort. Sadly, for 20 of the women who have since died, it came too late.

Dr Scally hopes that if his recommendations are followed, the system will be safer.

Sick women whose lives were shattered deserved to know how ill they were. They ought not have been hounded through the courts.

So, yes, an apology was absolutely necessary.

But a statement of intent - reflected in actions and not mere words - would be a more fitting testament.

Can the State confidently say such failures will not happen again? Or will we be hearing similar belated apologies to heartbroken families in years to come?

Only by such a yardstick can the sincerity of Mr Varadkar's words be truly tested.

Irish Independent

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