Vicky Phelan criticises Varadkar for ‘unacceptable delays’

Phelan accuses Government of using Brexit as an excuse for not fulfilling promises

Vicky Phelan has criticised Leo Varadkar and his Government for "unacceptable delays" in dealing with the fallout from the CervicalCheck controversy.

In an interview marking the first anniversary of the settlement of her High Court case that blew the whistle on shortcomings in the cervical cancer screening programme, Ms Phelan said the Taoiseach “just doesn’t get it” in relation to fixing the problems that have arisen.

“The classic example is him going on Six One News saying no woman would ever have to go into court, and look what’s happened. That’s still the case and not only that, the tribunal has not yet been established in order for that not to happen.

“I don’t think he gets it at all. And it’s not just because he’s a gay man, I just don’t think he gets it.”


She accused the Government of using Brexit as a “blanket excuse” for not implementing promises, and of saying things “to get the story out of the papers” but not following up with the resources needed.


Separate from the delay in setting up a non-adversarial tribunal, the CervicalCheck women were “no nearer” to having the promised ex gratia compensation scheme up and running, six months after it was announced, she said. This will compensate women for the HSE’s failure to disclose to them the results of an audit of their slides under the screening programme.

“We feel very strongly that we should have been included in the consultation process for this but it was just foisted upon us with no engagement whatsoever with anybody from the 221-plus CervicalCheck Patient Support Group,” she said.

Another delay, this time in completing a review by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Irish smear tests, was preventing many women with cervical cancer who were not included in the 221 group from accessing the supports available to them, she said.

Ms Phelan also pointed to delays in the introduction of mandatory open disclosure, promised in the wake of Dr Gabriel Scally’s report last year, and said that civil servants had failed to consult with patients on the issue.

Overall, the past year had seen some positives but “a lot of delays on a lot of different fronts”, she said.

“I think we got a lot of promises made at the time, not to shut us up but to ‘give them what they want quickly and get them off the pages’.

“Until we have a situation in this country where people are held accountable for what they’ve done, these things are just going to keep happening and there’ll be another scandal,” she said.

Repeat smears

Ms Phelan defended the decision of Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide free repeat smears to women last year, despite its contribution to the current backlog of unread smears.

She also defended the Minister’s decision to provide access to pembrolizumab, which has worked well for her, to all women with cervical cancer, even though the drug is not licensed for this use anywhere in Europe.

“It is actually licensed for cervical cancer in the States. It will take another three years before this happens over here in Europe; they’re so slow.

“If I had had to wait for this drug to be licensed for cervical cancer, I’d be dead. That is the reality. I’m not going to apologise to anybody for doing what I did because until you’re faced with a terminal diagnosis and you’re dying . . . you would do anything, you’d cut your arm off, you’d step over anybody.”

*This article was amended at 4pm on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.