LIMERICK CervicalCheck cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan says she feels “betrayed” after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly established the CervicalCheck Tribunal despite announcing it would be paused when he met with Ms Phelan and other campaigners last weekend.
The Annacotty mother-of-two described the tribunal as a “dead duck” in its present format and she will not support it.
In a thread on Twitter late on Tuesday night, Ms Phelan wrote: “The CervicalCheck Tribunal was established by statutory order at 00.01 this morning despite Minister Donnelly’s announcement yesterday evening following a meeting with 221+ representatives that its establishment would be paused.”
Ms Phelan said that the “Department of Health even issued a statement, which they shared with @221plus, to say that: “At the request of the 221+ Group, the establishment of the Tribunal has been paused for a number of days to allow it to engage with its members”.
Ms Phelan, who was given a terminal cervical cancer diagnosis after she was given a false negative smear test result, added: “Yet, at 6pm this evening 18 HOURS after the Tribunal was established, we get a phone call from a Department of Health official to inform us that the Tribunal that we do NOT support has been established, and to tell us that the Minister and officials were unable to delay it.”
“The order to establish the Tribunal had already been signed by the Minister on October 21. We made it quite clear last Friday, Oct 23 and again on Monday last, Oct 27 that we wanted it paused.We were promised that would happen.
“This promise was broken,” ” Ms Phelan wrote.
Along with members of the 221+ Patient Support Group, which was set up to support women and families identified arising out of the CervicalCheck scandal, Ms Phelan met the Minister last Monday.
On Tuesday evening, the The Department of Health issued the following statement: “Following a meeting with the 221+ Group on Monday, the Minister for Health and Department officials formally pursued the delaying of the establishment of the CervicalCheck Tribunal.
“However, as the order establishing the Tribunal had already been signed and sent for publication on Friday Octobert 23, this could not be reversed.”
Ms Phelan hit out at this decision stating that “the Minister should not have signed the order last week allowing the Tribunal to be established”.
“As early as last Tuesday the Minister knew that the 221+ group was not happy with the format of the Tribunal and that we would not support it.
“The Minister should not have signed the order. The Tribunal is not fit for purpose,” she said.
Ms Phelan added that she and her fellow campaigners “have communicated the issues very clearly and what needs to happen“.
“It is now firmly up to the Minister and the Government to right this wrong and make good on the demands of the 221+ group for a just and fair Tribunal.
“The alternative is a Tribunal that is in danger of going the way of the infamous e-voting machines – an embarrassing and costly mistake.“
Ms Phelan said that Minister Donnelly could decommission the Tribunal and that the 221+ group would not support it in its current format.
“So unless the Minister meets our demands for a just Tribunal, he will be left with a dead duck,” she concluded.
In an earlier series of messages on twitter, Ms Phelan said she was very angry at how the proposed tribunal of inquiry was being handled.
She claimed the women affected by the scandal were not given an opportunity to respond to the Minister’s decision to establish the Tribunal before it was formally announced.
“As we have become used to, those most affected are often the last to know.
“We met the Minister six weeks ago when we set out several aspects of the Tribunal that were causing us serious concern. The Minister’s response was a flat rejection of all our concerns,” she said.
“We asked for a non-adversarial route to be found for the Tribunal, one not obliging women to fight the labs given recent court rulings.
“Women could instead rely on the duty owed to them by the HSE, who were found primarily responsible for the cervical screening programme in the Ruth Morrissey case. The HSE could then rely on their contractual and legal indemnities against the lab.”
“But the Minister rejected these arguments and said the laboratories must be involved in the Tribunal. This will not be acceptable to many of our members,” Ms Phelan said.
“We asked that applicants to the Tribunal who receive an award be allowed to return to the Tribunal should they suffer a recurrence of their cancer, in the same way that the State allowed applicants before the Hep-C Tribunal to return if their health deteriorated further.”
“Such a right to return to the Tribunal would be an advantage over the High Court procedures where no such right exists. The Minister’s letter didn’t even address this,” she said.
“Another issue he didn’t address was that of the Statute of Limitations. Some of our members have received legal advice that they may now be statute-barred because they relied on the Government’s promise of a ‘non-adversarial’ Tribunal and did not issue High Court proceedings,“ she explained.