Orla O’Connor Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland tweeted out yesterday her praise for the Minister for Health, after the publication of the damning Scally report which finds significant failures in the structures of the screening programme. “Good to hear @Simon HarrisTD say the #ScallyReport provides a roadmap for changes needed and that he is committed to new Women’s Health Action Plan on @rtenews.”
The NWCI is, according to their website, the leading national women’s membership organisation, seeking equality between men and women. Their mission is to ‘lead and to articulate the views and experiences of our 300,000 members and make sure their voices are heard wherever decisions are made which affect the lives of women.’
It would not be controversial to say that the Cervical Cancer Scandal is directly affecting women’s lives. 221 women with cervical cancer were not informed of audits that showed that the results of their smear tests warranted further action.
But our Taoiseach is also very positive about the report. Varadkar affirmed that “we all want something good to come out of the Cervical Check controversy and all the pain it has caused, let’s make cervical cancer a rare disease in ireland through better screening and HPV vaccines for boys and girls.”
Except, that is, for the normal, non-politicians left behind with unanswered questions and a ticking clock for their time left on earth. Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and Stephen Teap (husband of Irene) are just three of the victims speaking out, demanding answers. Each one has called for political accountability for the health systems immense failures that emerged from the Scandal.
In 2005 Mary Harney oversaw the establishment of the HSE. It has an annual budget of €13 billion, more than any other public sector organisation. She, and every subsequent Minister for Health; Dr James Reilly, Dr Leo Varadkar, and Simon Harris have failed to put in place the necessary structures and a culture of accountability in the HSE. They hold ultimate responsibility.
Instead the ‘system’ is to blame. The politicians call for ‘reform.’ The sanctimonious Simon Harris speaks to reporters outside Leinster House, with a stern face and tells us there will be nowhere to hide for those responsible for the Cervical Cancer Scandal. Can we really take this seriously?
In May this year, Cork father Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene passed away from cervical cancer and Limerick mother Vicky Phelan, who has months to live, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that they want clear actions to be taken in response to the scandal. Mr Teap showed in the report that 35 senior officials knew of the crisis two years ago, and that no one named in the files should remain in power.
“In the same way (former HSE director general) Tony O’Brien is now out of position. It needs to be followed through. If it’s 35 people, so be it. They can’t remain in positions of power. It’s a scandal, people are dead,” said Mr Teap.
During the same meeting, Ms Phelan and Mr Teap also told PAC members they believe there has been an orchestrated cover-up of events by HSE and Department of Health officials, and that a culture of denial has overtaken patient care.
Mr Tony O’Brien, who was due to retire anyway in August has faced no financial penalties. He received his full salary of €185,000 as well as a one-time payment of €140,000 along with his public service pension. O’Brien said that he made his decision to resign, to avoid any impact to the delivery of health and social care services.
A little late for that surely?
Then Minister Harris thanked O’Brien for his ‘many years of service and dedication.’ He doesn’t get the blame exactly, but they offer the image that something is being done, and it looks good for the government.
In Dublin Castle, three months ago Simon Harris and Orla O’Connor were photographed hugging, celebrating the Yes vote to repeal the 8th amendment. They worked closely together during the campaign.
Perhaps if Orla O’Connor, who is supposed to be speaking up and defending the interests of women, was not afraid to criticise her good friend the Minister of Health, and the mainstream media weren’t afraid to ask hard questions and hold the people in charge accountable, this scandal would have been uncovered earlier. A few less mothers would be preparing their young families for a life without them.