We should never have heard of Vicky Phelan or Ruth Morrissey or any of the other women affected by the cervical cancer scandal.
At least not for being young women and mothers and terminally ill with cervical cancer. Because a system that was supposed to protect them let them down very badly.
Their bravery and courage are in sharp contrast to the abject failings of the State agencies charged with protecting our health. It is chilling to think of the silent death toll that would have continued to rise unchecked, had Vicky Phelan not been so brave.
Health System Reluctant to Admit Mistakes
There is something rotten at the heart of our health system. It’s a reluctance to own up to mistakes – a fear of being sued. This is corrosive and unless and until it changes, nothing will change and we will continue to have more Vicky Phelans and Irene Teaps and Emma Mhic Mhathúnas and Ruth Morrisseys. Publishing his final report, some four years after his initial report, Dr. Gabrielle Scally finds that we are apparently no closer to seeing a meaningful move towards normalisation of open disclosure within the HSE.
Legal System for Medical Negligence Unfit For Purpose
As a lawyer it also pains me to say that the legal system we have in place to deal with medical negligence cases is structurally unfit for purpose. I have to work with this system every day. I sit with clients who have been traumatised by the clinical failings of their doctors; a trauma that is made worse by the manner in which they are treated by hospital management when they seek answers and by the manner in which the State defends their case. This trauma goes on for years.
Member of the 221 group have found that they have been treated as 2nd class citizens when trying to access treatment. This is an absolutely appalling state of affairs and shocking to the core.
Medical Negligence Clients Treatment by the State
As I think of these women this week I am reminded of my clients who have suffered themselves or lost their loved ones – babies, young women, young fathers and grandparents – through medical negligence and who were treated appallingly by the State.
I have had cases which were so clear-cut in terms of negligence that I forwarded my experts’ reports to the State at a very early stage to avoid protracted litigation only to be met with a full defence and then settlement talks on the morning of the hearing of the case. This “defending the indefensible” cannot continue. It’s unconscionable.
Thankfully the truth has come about the shortcomings in the screening of cervical cancer but we came very close to it lying buried forever. Vicky has done the women of this country a huge service with her bravery.
We Need Mandatory Open Disclosure
We need the medical profession and the State agencies such as the State Claims Agency which manages medical negligence claims on behalf of the State to undergo a real and meaningful change in their approach to clinical errors. Mandatory open disclosure of these errors is the only credible way forward, the word “Should” needs to be replaced with “Must”!
My fear is that with the passage of time, memories will fade and we will slowly settle back into the couch of complacency.
Legacy of Vicky Phelan
Vicky Phelan was a remarkable woman whose courage has given us the opportunity to finally put the patient and their families at the heart of our health system and to treat citizens who bring cases as human beings rather than an inconvenience.
I continue to be involved in many of what have come to be known as the “Cervical Check” cases and my question is this; why is the state continuing to let terminally ill women such as Vicky Phelan RIP and many more before her, waste their precious time and I mean precious, fighting labs while the HSE who after Ruth Morrissey have been found to have an indelegable duty towards these women, sits back as no more than a named party. The HSE and SCA have the resources and backing of the State, these women have to fork out multiple thousands of euros to establish a basis for their cases and that’s just the expert reports. I find the labs others amongst the most aggressive litigants I’ve ever encountered. They employ the largest legal firms, most plaintiffs would never see inside the front door or should I say lobby of their buildings.
This would be an incredible legacy for the lady who as Ryan Tubridy put it was “the best President we never had”.
If you have any queries related to this article please contact Niamh Ni Mhurchú, Joint Managing Partner at Callan Tansey Solicitors LLP at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 071- 9162032.