Vicky Phelan: 'How has Tony O'Brien the balls to stay in HSE job?'

Limerick woman who brought cervical screening scandal to light speaks to the Róisín Meets podcast

The woman at the centre of the CervicalCheck cancer screening scandal has called for the resignation of Health Service Executive (HSE) director general Tony O'Brien.

Speaking to Roisin Ingle on the Irish Times Róisín Meets podcast, terminally ill Limerick woman Vicky Phelan said the situation was "disgraceful, it's an absolute national scandal" and that she did not understand how Mr O'Brien could "have the balls to stay in the job at this stage".

Following a High Court case taken by Ms Phelan, it emerged that scores of women with cervical cancer were not told that negative smear test results they had received were in fact inaccurate and the revised test results were kept from them for years.

Mr O’Brien is due to leave the HSE in July and has rejected renewed calls for his resignation in light of the controversy.


“He may only have 12 weeks to ride out this storm and go off into the sunset with his big fat pension, but I just think that he should man up and actually accept that as head of HSE, the buck stops with him,” Ms Phelan said.

In the podcast she also tells Ingle why she is advocating for a yes vote in the coming referendum: “I stand on the yes side, I never had to question whether I was going to vote no I knew I was going to vote yes, women should have choices to make their own decisions about their bodies themselves and not have anybody else telling them what to do”.

Diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 after a false negative result from a cervical smear in 2011, Ms Phelan was told in January of this year that her cancer was incurable and that she had between six and 12 months to live.

“I really don’t think I’m going to die,” she told the podcast.

“Some people might think that I’m in denial. I’m not. I know I’ve got a terminal illness, but I’m going to throw everything at it. That is the main reason I took this case.”

Last week, Ms Phelan received a settlement of €2.5 million without an admission of liability, in her case against a US laboratory that was subcontracted by CervicalCheck, the national screening service. Her case against the HSE was struck out.

An audit at CervicalCheck over the weekend found that in the cases of 208 women diagnosed with cervical cancer, an original smear test had falsely given them the all-clear.

Ms Phelan said she had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement in her case after learning that she was not the only woman affected.

“When we found out there were other women involved, there was no way I could have ever sat on that information.

“Even if they offered me a ridiculous amount of money, I still would never have signed a non-disclosure agreement because there was too much at stake for other women and for the future of the cervical screening programme,” she said.

Ms Phelan said she hoped her case would not discourage other women from having smear tests.

“You do not want to be in my position, it is not a nice place to be. I have seen women with terminal cervical cancer and it is an awful death,” she said.

The Government is to establish a non-statutory inquiry to examine whether a commission of investigation into the CervicalCheck scandal is required. Ms Phelan has called for any investigation to be carried out in public.

“What I do not want to see is a closed door, where this thing is done in private. Too much has been covered up as it is,” she told the podcast.

“This needs to be public. If that means that we need to change the legislation to allow for that, well I think it’s warranted at this stage because this is a national scandal.”

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