The cervical check scandal is breathtaking, terrifying and almost beyond comprehension.

Its magnitude has yet to be fully revealed as the headlines keep getting updated. More than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck.

208 women whose smear tests gave a false negative result went on to develop cancer. 17 women have died so far. 15 of these without knowing they had been the victim of a misdiagnosis.

There are more questions than answers. How could this happen? Who are the faceless people who tried to coerce 43 year old Vicky Phelan to cover up her own death? How are the other women affected by this seismic scandal coping? Could my cervical check results be wrong? Will anyone go to jail? How did journalists miss this?

Only a few weeks ago we were oblivious to this dark secret for years, focusing on the endless abortion debate and victim feminism, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding and the Citizens Assembly. Female journalists, especially, across Ireland have been so distracted by often silly scandals involving men and Hollywood, that we missed the boat on the biggest human rights issue in our country in years.

It ended up being a civilian, Mrs Phelan, who brought this wrongdoing of epic proportions into the spotlight by seeking justice. “Straight away they (cervicalcheck.ie) were looking for a confidentiality clause,” she told Ray Darcy on RTE last Saturday.

“I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to sign a confidentiality clause, before I knew about the other women,” she added. She was in her words told to “Keep your mouth shut and we’ll pay you off…”

Had she agreed, we wouldn’t know of the extent of this controversy.

No one had heard of Vickie Phelan a few weeks ago, now she’s a national hero.

Needless to say, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. Most women I know are paranoid. We’re booking smear tests and fearing misdiagnosis. The people we trusted, who are meant to know about theses things better than we do, let us down. On top of that, we’re disgusted that families have be torn apart by these avoidable tragedies.

You could be lead to think that this is a bad time for women in Ireland.

But despite its consequences, this gross medical negligence and subsequent cover up is not anti woman.

In Ireland, women’s health care is good. We are generally well monitored, thats why this is such an outrage. My own experiences with the HSE were faultless. I had my baby in the public ward in the Coombe, and was blown away by the excellent service I received from prenatal care to being helped breastfeed my daughter and everything in between.

Women have more complex reproductive systems than men. Men die younger, they don’t go to the doctor in the first place. They have other issues, heart disease, prostate cancer and in most countries, they go to the front line, and don’t get custody for their kids after divorce.

Yet on TV and in articles, commentators have made this about identity politics. “Mother and baby homes, magdalene laundries, the 8th amendment, now this,” some have suggested. But let’s not waste time on this outdated discussion.

What we as journalists and citizens need to do now, is work harder to see what other scandals could potentially be hidden under the surface. We have to push for more transparency. This is not just a medical story, it’s a criminal, political and legal scandal and those responsible for the cover up need to be made accountable. We want to see these faces. We must insist upon it.

17 women could have lived a long and full lives, if there was early detection and diagnosis. They would have lived to become a grandmothers, lived to see her children grow to adulthood. There is no monetary exchange for this, no matter how much the HSE has to dish out. I know of someone in my circle, who had her reproductive organs removed. How can you put  cash value on that?

It appears, that within the cervical check scandal, those in positions of power placed the reputations of their colleagues above the interests of the public, while we went along for tests, every three years, phobia or not, and hoped for the best- 75,000 to 80,000 of us. Now we’re scared something could have been overlooked.

Once the women and families gets paid off for having untimely tragedy inflicted upon their lives, you have to wonder where cutbacks within the HSE will happen. There is never enough money for the health service, so where will all the money be extracted from I wonder?

What services will be outsourced to pay for this scandal?

On the plus side, Vicky Phelan will save lives. She was brave enough to put herself through the anguish of court to seek justice, even after her traumatising terminal diagnosis.

She reminded us- both women and men to be more vigilant. Get smear tests every year, she said. Privately – the €80 is worth it. Get regular check ups. Get second opinions. Don’t ignore symptoms. Lets learn from this.

Thanks Vicky Phelan for this, let’s hope your battle was not in vain.

 

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