CervicalCheck and the 221+: A constant reminder of the State's failings against women 3 months ago

CervicalCheck and the 221+: A constant reminder of the State's failings against women

"Now it is too late..."

At least 221 women in Ireland were affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, which saw a significant number of false negatives issued to patients who had undergone smear tests under the national screening service.

Among them were notable campaigners including Vicky Phelan, Lorraine Walsh, Laura Brennan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and many others - women who all worked tirelessly to bring the failings of the State to light, some who have sadly since passed away.

Ruth Morrissey is the latest patient caught up in the scandal to have tragically died.

A beloved mother and wife, Ruth was just 39-years-old when she passed away on July 19. Ruth had been first diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. She was later informed, like many other women, that two previous tests she had taken with the screening service had been recorded incorrectly.

Ruth's passing comes during a turbulent time for Ireland's health system. The bulk of 2020 has been dominated by a focus on the Covid-19 pandemic, an event that for a long time rendered any and all other news stories almost mute.

The pandemic has exposed a considerable number of gaps in the Irish health system, an institution that has already long been mired with controversies around a severe lack of hospital beds, extortionate children's hospitals, and hundreds of false negative cervical smear test results.

As the curve was slowly flattened, these issues came to the forefront again. They hadn't been forgotten about, but sidelined for a brief period, eventually giving way to new problems including the delays in restarting the likes of BreastCheck, BowelCheck, and of course, CervicalCheck programmes. 

The passing of Ruth Morrissey is another unfortunate - and regular - reminder of Ireland's failing when it comes to women and women's health.

For years, the country forbade its women from making necessary choices about their own bodies, lives, and livelihoods, only to continue to disregard its adult female population through the fault of poor programme management and a series of egregious mistakes.

Ruth's passing is a tragedy - one that, like many others, could have been avoided.

Going forward, we will continue to hear of the deaths of more women who were let down by their country, by a system that failed when it should not have, by errors that did not need to be made.

Because of this, we will always remember those who have lost their lives, but during these difficult times we are also asked not to conveniently forget the failings - of those who offered muted apologies, who acted too late, or who simply did nothing.

Following Ruth's passing, her husband Paul issued a statement via her solicitor. It references Ruth's "smile, her wit and her intelligence," as well as her "courage and determination" in her willingness to take a case against the HSE.

But the statement also references the lack of accountability, the glaring mistakes caused by CervicalCheck, and the years of agony that patients and their family members were - and still are - forced to go through.

“Despite the magnitude of the harm caused to her by avoidable errors," it reads, "despite the broken promise of a Taoiseach who said no other woman would have to go to trial, despite using Ruth as a test case through the final years and months of her life, neither the HSE nor the State has ever apologised to her."

"Now" it reads, "it is too late."