Sunday 21 April 2019

Vicky Phelan case a damning failure

Vicky Phelan. Photo: Collins Courts
Vicky Phelan. Photo: Collins Courts


The shocking and tragic case of Vicky Phelan, the 43-year-old mother from Limerick who is bravely facing the most profound cervical cancer diagnosis following what has been correctly described as a "shameful series of events", raises the most serious questions firstly in relation to the CervicalCheck service itself and more broadly in relation to the health service in general.

At what point, it must be asked, did we come to accept such appalling failures within the health service and to what extent must we cry 'enough is enough' before policy makers and stakeholders finally contend with the most basic and evident shortcomings in the health service?

The terrible circumstances in which Ms Phelan and her family now find themselves is but one example in a litany of events which emerged last week to cast the most harsh light across not just the health service but indeed social services in this country.

Consider if you will other accounts of failures which have come to further light in the past week: the circumstances surrounding the death of baby Ciara Loughlin at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise 11 years ago; the totally unacceptable state of the mental health service, particularly for children and young adolescents; and the disturbing revelations of child sex abuse which have been met with more apologies, yes, but also with charges of a 'wall of silence' from the HSE and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

As the country faces into the prospect of a general election within six months to a year, it is surely beyond time that all politicians and policymakers be held to account, but more importantly demanded of to outline precisely, in detail, how they intend to bring about the most significant change to a health and wider social service, aspects of which it must be regretfully said are not fit for purpose, particularly where those services interface with the public which is, after all, the purpose of such services in the first place.

Last week was a week of shame for those services. That is not to condemn unfairly the vast majority of those who work there, for surely they do so with dedication and commitment.

Rather it is more a damning indictment of the management of those services particularly, and other stakeholders, those who would seek to 'pass the buck' or fail to accept responsibility in a timely fashion for the failings over which they preside, let alone put in place a system of processes to ensure that such failings do not continue to be repeated so regularly and in such an utterly depressing fashion.

Last night we saw Dr Grainne Flannelly resign from her role as clinical director of CervicalCheck. Though in its statement, the HSE said "in advance of a peer review being completed it is considered essential that the remainder of the leadership team of the programme remain in situ."

The bravery of Vicky Phelan is to be admired, and this newspaper adds voice to those who have spoken, frankly, in awe at her remarkable dignity and determination in the face of her diagnosis, and fully agree that she has been the victim of an appalling breach of trust.

Important questions remain to be answered relating to the mishandling of her case, and that of 14 other women, to ensure that a repeat of this situation never happens again.

Sunday Independent

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