CervicalCheck Tribunal deadline for claims extended for second time

Tribunal has only received 17 claims since it began operating in December 202 0

The controversy over the cervical screening programme was sparked by the 2018 High Court settlement of an action by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan.

The controversy over the cervical screening programme was sparked by the 2018 High Court settlement of an action by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan.

 

The CervicalCheck Tribunal, which was set up as an alternative to the courts system for women to make claims linked to the CervicalCheck controversy, has extended its closing date until July 2022.

The Department of Health confirmed on Friday that the tribunal would continue to receive claims until July 26th 2022, but noted that the CervicalCheck Tribunal Act 2019 would not provide for a further extension of this data. This is the second time the tribunal’s closing date for claims has been extended.

There has been a low uptake of the scheme with the Tribunal receiving just 17 claims since it began operating in December 2020.

In contrast, 305 legal cases had been initiated by women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, including 60 cases taken by family members over issues such as psychological injury, by October 2021.

The controversy over the cervical screening programme was sparked by the 2018 High Court settlement of an action by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan, who has cervical cancer, over the reading of her smear test. Ms Phelan wrote in this paper last year that the CervicalCheck Tribunal “isn’t working” and had “not won the confidence of those impacted or their legal teams due to the State’s unwillingness to address a small number of key issues”.

In a statement sent to Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, the Department of Health said a “significant portion” of the 17 claims had now been resolved and that the tribunal could bring claims to resolution “in months, rather than the years that many claims have been pending before the courts”.

“The Tribunal is the most appropriate venue to hear and determine CervicalCheck claims,” said statement. “It has been specifically designed for that purpose.” It added that participation in the Tribunal “must be voluntary for all parties” and that it was “entirely up to eligible women as to whether or not they choose to use the Tribunal”.

“We have carefully considered all concerns about the Tribunal that were raised by eligible parties and strongly believe that the Tribunal is the best achievable alternative to the Courts for eligible claims, offering substantial advantages when compared to a normal Court process.”

Mr Tóibín said the decision to extend the tribunal a second time “seems like a last ditch attempt to salvage the tribunal, in the hopes that more claims will be lodged”.

“It is clear, however, that women are voting with their feet,” he said. “The Minister needs to admit that he was wrong to ignore the concerns of the 221 plus group around the nature of this tribunal”

The CervicalCheck tribunal was established following a report by Mr Justice Charles Meenan which cited an urgent need for an alternative to court proceedings because many of the women concerned were seriously ill.

The tribunal was originally due to stop taking new claims on July 26th 2021. However, the department of health announced last July it was extending the receipt of claims by six months with an option to extend it by a further six months in 2022 to July 26th.

Speaking last summer, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Covid-19 restrictions introduced following the appointment of the members of the tribunal in December 2020 “caused significant disruption to all legal proceedings, particularly those where claimants had to attend medical practitioners to secure reports on their conditions”.

The tribunal received its first claims in March 2021 but then “suffered a further blow in May of this year when it too was impacted by the criminal cyberattack which resulted in the tribunal’s email and databases being taken offline,” said the minister, adding that the tribunal was not fully reconnected again until June 2021.

The closing date for claims was extended after the CervicalCheck Tribunal (Amendment) Act 2021 was signed into law so that new claims could continue to be accepted into 2022.