Who are the women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal?
‘I never thought the problem would be of this magnitude . . . they fecked with the wrong women’
Clockwise from left: Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna, Irene Teap and Catherine Reck.
The CervicalCheck scandal that was brought to light by Vicky Phelan’s High Court case has rocked the country.
Ms Phelan, a 43-year-old mother of two from Co Limerick, took proceedings after it emerged her 2011 smear test, which showed no abnormalities, was found, in a 2014 audit of smear tests on a number of women, to be incorrect.
She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 but did not learn of the review or audit until 2017.
An audit at CervicalCheck over the weekend found in the cases of 208 women diagnosed with cervical cancer, an original smear test had falsely given them the all-clear. In total, 162 of these women were not told about the revised results and of these women, 17 are now dead. If signs of the cancer had been detected in the original tests, women may have received treatment earlier.
Vicky Phelan: ‘By God I’m going to take these guys on’
“I’m actually very upset. To think there was 17 women. It was bad enough that there were three but to think there was 17,” Vicky Phelan told the Ray D’Arcy show on RTÉ Radio One.
“I could be another one of those women. If I had died I would have been on that list. Thankfully I didn’t and I’m here to tell the tale. And by God I’m going to take these guys on. I think it’s disgraceful what they’ve been doing to the women of Ireland.
“I never thought the problem would be of this magnitude. I really didn’t think I’d be waking up this morning to this type of news. They fecked with the wrong women.”
She said she does not have “any trust in the management of the programme as it currently stands” but urged women to continue getting smear tests despite the controversy. “Cancer screening does save lives.”
Ms Phelan said she does not want to see an “inquiry or tribunal that will take years” but also doesn’t want an investigation taking place behind closed doors.
“I am happy to see there is going to be an inquiry. I’d be very reluctant to see one that can’t be reported on until it’s finished.”
She said the inquiry should examine why the HSE fought against her High Court case so hard, including asking for details of how sick she was and how soon she might die.
“It’s upsetting to think they demanded proof that I was likely to die earlier than expected. I mean Jesus, how dare they?” Ms Phelan asked.
In January of this year, she was given between six and 12 months to live.
She is currently on a treatment drug which costs €8,500 per dosage every three weeks. She said she is currently paying for the drug herself.
“In fairness, the money I’m using to pay for the drug has come from the kindness of strangers, my family, my friends and my community. Thank you very much to all those people because that’s what’s helping me to pay for this at the moment.
Have you been affected by the CervicalCheck scandal?
Ms Phelan said that it is “scandalous” the HSE has no offered to meet the cost of the drug treatment.
“When you think about it, they are at fault for my misdiagnosis and I’m the one paying for my treatment, it’s scandalous.”
Emma Mhic Mhathúna: ‘I’m still going round in shock, is it true?’
Emma Mhic Mhathúna, a 37-year-old mother of five diagnosed with cancer, said she was only told on Sunday, April 29th, that a smear test in 2013 incorrectly gave her the all clear.
In 2016, Ms Mhic Mhathúna was told she had stage 2B cervical cancer after a biopsy, but only found out in recent days a smear test three years earlier had shown signs of cancer, which were not picked up.
“If I had got the right results at that time, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Ms Mhic Mhathúna told RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta on Tuesday.
“Last Sunday, my doctor in Dublin called. He said that he hoped I was reading the stories in the paper about the CervicalCheck. He said he didn’t have all my files in front of him, but that I was one of the women involved. I asked him to call Cork and to tell them to take good care of me,” she said.
Ms Mhic Mhathúna is currently receiving treatment at Cork University Hospital, and has been living in Co Kerry for the last six months.
In a follow-up phone call, her doctor informed her the smear results from a test in 2013 were incorrect. “The first indications of cancer, the cells changing in the body, were there,” she said.
“If I had got the right results at that time, I wouldn’t be where I am now . . . I had a kidney infection in January, I have a lung infection now. My life . . . well I’m not too worried about my life, but the kids are very very young”, she said.
“I’ve an appointment with my doctor today because my head is spinning. I’m still going round in shock, is it true?”
She attended regular check-ups in hospital every four months. On April 4th she was given the all clear in Cork University Hospital, she said, but explained she had not been feeling well lately.
“On 15th April, that’s a fortnight ago, I knew there was something wrong with my body again. I went to the doctor and he found something that was more than 1cm there . . . I was at the hospital last week and had to get a biopsy done yesterday, “ she said.
One of her sons Séamus is due to make his confirmation next Tuesday. “I’m very worried about everything, so I asked the church and the school if Mario can make his confirmation as well. He’s in 4th class. It’s good for me that they can both do it together,” she said.
Family of Catherine Reck: ‘We are numb, we are angry’
Grace Rattigan took to Facebook to say her mother, Catherine Reck, was one of the 17 women who died from cancer due to a delayed diagnosis.
Ms Rattigansaid an audit of cervical tests showed the smear Catherine received in November 2010 was incorrectly reported.
“It was not low grade abnormalities, it was in fact exceedingly high grade Abnormalities and needed immediate attention.
“We have now been informed that had this been reported correctly the colposcopy would have been requested immediately and would have been conducted no later than January 2011.
Conversly, as a result of this discrepancy, the colposcopy was not carried out until August 2011. Seven months later, meaning treatment didn’t begin until October 2011.
“Almost a year after the incorrect smear test result was received. Things could have been very different for all of us right now.”
Catherine Reck died in 2012.
Ms Rattigan said her mother’s doctor was made aware of the incorrect smear result in 2016 but was advised by CervicalCheck not to inform the family.
“We are numb, we are angry; we have been brought back to the start of a long and difficult grieving process. This changes everything, all of the “what if’s” suddenly feel different,” Ms Rattigan said.
“We want answers for Catherine, her family (us) and the other women and families who have been failed. We want accountability. Above all else we want change.
“We never want this to happen to any woman or her family in this country again.”
Husband of Irene Teap: ‘It hurts that that has been going on’
Stephen Teap’s wife Irene was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died last year after two undisclosed false tests in 2010 and 2013.
Irene was one of 17 women who were given inaccurate tests to have died. She died in July 2017 at the age of 35 leaving behind two young sons Oscar and Noah.
She died without knowing about the false negative smear test results. Mr Teap only learned of his wife’s inaccurate tests when he was told by the HSE after a court case taken by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan.
“It was shocking: the lack of concern for the patient and lack of concern over learning from mistakes. How they were trying to prioritise a response to negative feedback from patients and the media was terrible,” Mr Teap said.
“It doesn’t take the patient into consideration whatsoever and it hurts, it hurts that that has been going on,” he told The Irish Times.
The Irish Times would like to speak to people who have been affected by the cervical cancer screening scandal. Have you been notified that you recieved an incorrect result? Do you suspect something may have been missed?
(Question: Have you been affected by the CervicalCheck scandal?)