Limerick woman Vicky Phelan plans to fund a cancer care centre worker to provide patients with access to the latest ground-breaking drug therapies.
Ms Phelan, who settled her legal action for €2.5 million over a 2011 false negative smear test, says she is personally willing to fund such a position to “shame” the Government into following her lead and provide similar posts around the country.
“One of the things I want to see happening is that I would hope to try to fund a position, and that one position would lead to another, so I’m willing to do that. I think that if I got the ball rolling, it would be a goodwill gesture on my part, to again shame [the Government] into doing it,” Ms Phelan told reporters at the University of Limerick (UL) where she was awarded an honorary doctorate.
The mother of two has discussed her plans with Minister for Health Simon Harris and the idea is in its “early stages”.
“If you’re given a terminal diagnosis, you should be sent to [such a] person because the oncologists don’t do it – it’s not part of their remit,” she said.
Ms Phelan received a false negative test after she went for a cervical smear in 2011. Three years later she was diagnosed with cancer. Last January, she was informed she had months to live.
She was awarded €2.5 million in damages in the High Court for the error last April. The publicity surrounding her story led to the CervicalCheck scandal, involving 209 women.
Ms Phelan said she was “given no hope” when she received her terminal cancer diagnosis.
Her “big focus” remained to push for all women with advanced cervical cancer to receive the drug Pembrolizumab, which is newly-licensed in the US but not expected to be licensed in Ireland for another two to three years.
Since last April Ms Phelan has undergone four rounds of the drug, and last week was informed her tumours had shrunk significantly.
Ms Phelan said she is now “feeling great, 100 per cent”.
Asked if she had faith in the HSE, she replied: “Parts of it”.
She praised paediatric services which are treating her daughter for a “congenital disorder”, but added, “there are parts of it that don’t work well, which is the cervical screening side of things – and – also oncology”.
“I was offered no hope in January so I had to go off and do all the research myself. I would be a bit sceptical about the health service from the point of view of terminally ill patients, because you’re not given much hope.”
Ms Phelan said, when asked, she would not consider becoming a politician. “If I hadn’t gone ahead and looked up all these clinical trials and the immunotherapy drugs myself and pushed for them... I mean I had to push hard to get access to this drug, and the only way I got access to it was pestering people.
“I had fundraising money to pay for it and they still wouldn’t give it to me. So I had to keep pushing and pushing until I made a nuisance of myself to get access to it, and shame them into it in the end.”
Ms Phelan, watched by her husband, Jim, children Amelia (12) and Darragh (7), and parents John and Gabby Kelly, punched the air after receiving her honorary doctorate paper scroll from UL president Des Fitzgerald.
Also present was Stephen Teap, from Carrigaline, Co Cork, whose wife Irene was diagnosed with stage two cancer in 2015 and died on July 26th last year after receiving two false negative tests in 2010 and 2013.