"Let the words of today help heal our broken hearts" Cervical cancer patient support group respond to the Taoiseach's apology 2 months ago

"Let the words of today help heal our broken hearts" Cervical cancer patient support group respond to the Taoiseach's apology

"A watershed moment"

The cervical cancer patient support group 221+ has responded to the Taoiseach's apology for the "many failures" of the healthcare system.

The independent group was established in July 2018 to provide information, support and advice to families affected by the national cervical smear screening scandal. The group's name symbolises the 221 women who are so far known to have been affected by the scandal.

Its steering committee includes Vicky Phelan – the Limerick woman who first brought the scandal to light – fellow sufferer Lorriane Walsh and Stephen Teap, who lost his wife Irene, a victim of misread smears, in 2017. All three were in the Dáil to hear the Taoiseach's speech read out.

"For us, the acknowledgement and this apology have huge significance," the group said in its statement. It outlined how Leo Varadkar's apology came after meetings between Government officials and the women of 221, as well as their families – and, in some cases, those who have survived them.

"Those telling their story spoke simply the truth, courageously but from the heart and with quiet dignity. In reliving their experiences and articulating their fears – at times saying very difficult things – they made an enormous contribution that will serve to improve our system. We all will benefit."

The group stressed that the Government must now follow through on promises made to reform the health service and put in place the checks that will ensure that similar failings will not be possible in the future.

Earlier today, Dr Gabriel Scally, who authored two reports after his investigation into the cervical screening system, said that he was satisfied that his recommendations for change are being implemented by the HSE, while adding that there was more work to be done.

221+ patient representatives Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh

The full 221+ statement reads as follows:

The State’s acknowledgement and apology through An Taoiseach to the women and families adversely impacted by the abject failures of CervicalCheck is a watershed moment.

It is an acknowledgement from the core of Government that our healthcare system was not patient centred.

It is a first step in the process of rebuilding confidence in the capacity of the State to put the patient first in the delivery of public healthcare generally, and for women’s health specifically.

For us, the acknowledgement and this apology have huge significance. They are central to the process of healing and of rebuilding our lives, and the lives of those who love, support and care for us.

We have always said however that a genuine and meaningful apology could only be possible when those delivering it have a full understanding of what they were, and are, responsible for.

Today’s statement comes after in person meetings over recent months between the women in 221+, their partners, their families and the bereaved with An Taoiseach. They spoke and he listened with great respect.  We are proud of them all.

This listening by An Taoiseach was in itself restorative and is deeply appreciated.

Those telling their story spoke simply the truth, courageously but from the heart and with quiet dignity. In reliving their experiences and articulating their fears – at times saying very difficult things – they made an enormous contribution that will serve to improve our system. We all will benefit.

Today is about the State taking responsibility for the inaction of the past. It now recognises the impact of the systemic incapacity that caused the CervicalCheck debacle and the necessity of reversing that.

What must follow is that those with the power to do so will work to establish the governance structures, the oversight, the management capacity and the quality assurance checks which are vital to ensure that these failures will never happen again.

A blueprint has been established by the work and recommendations of Dr. Gabriel Scally, Prof Brian MacCraith and others working alongside them.

The true success of today will be measured by the resolve we see across the health system to implement all those recommendations.

With such resolve, with the support of the committed frontline staff right throughout the Health Service, dedicated as they are to public healthcare, we can move forward.

Our hope now is for a time in Ireland when no woman will ever again have cause to doubt the availability or the quality of the healthcare they receive from the State.

To those who continue, or shall commence, lonely battles through our courts we send our best wishes.   We are with you in your search for truth and justice.

To those who find it difficult to speak and who may feel alone, please know that you are never, ever, alone.

And finally, to the broken-hearted, even with all that has been said and written, words shall continue to fail us….

…we will remember always those we have loved and lost and we think of the ones we yearned to love.

And now, let the words of today – words of dignified acknowledgement and apology;

– let them help us heal our broken hearts.