Limerick woman, Vicky Phelan's decision to go public on the CervicalCheck scandal - while battling terminal cancer - has done Irish women a huge service. As the story continues to unfold, we ask: have Irish women given up on smears entirely? And what would the woman at the centre of the storm say if we had?
Ireland has not been short of health scandals relating to women and in recent days the national CervicalCheck cancer programme has been dragged into the spotlight. It follows Limerick woman, Vicky Phelan’s win at the High Court in her case against the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the American laboratory that carried out cervical screening tests.
Phelan, 43, has terminal cancer, after receiving a negative smear test result in 2011 under the HSE’s CervicalCheck programme. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 but only told of the false negative in the smear test in late 2017.
It has since been revealed that she is not the only woman who wasn’t given information regarding previous smears following a cervical cancer diagnosis. Phelan’s decision to go public with her case has not only thrown the HSE and Government into disarray but has ignited a lot of fear and worry in many Irish women.
Are smears still worth it?
A CervicalCheck helpline set up to answer queries from worried women received over 6,000 calls in a matter of days. The story is changing by the day, but on RTE’s Prime Time last night, Phelan was very clear that she thinks this issue should not put women off going for regular smears.
“No absolutely not. Oh my god no. I do think the cervical screening programme – not the one we have at the moment, it’s not fit for purpose – but I do think cervical screening is absolutely essential for women. I do not want to see more numbers of women developing invasive cervical cancer…
“I’m lucky I have my two children but I have met women along the way who are not able to have children as a result [of invasive cervical cancer treatment]. I really don’t want women to go through all that so I would really encourage women to continue going for smears.”
What to do if you’re worried
When asked what she would say to any woman who’s currently worried about what these revelations might mean, Phelan said she would advise them to avail of Minister for Health, Simon Harris’ offer of a free repeat smear. Details of this are due to be announced soon.
If you have concerns about previous smear tests or have any questions, you can call the CervicalCheck helpline: 1800 45 45 55 (9:00 am – 6:00 Monday to Friday).
What is CervicalCheck?
Set up in 2008, CervicalCheck is a free smear test offered to women aged 25 to 60 years. To date is has provided three million smears and over 50,000 cases of pre-cancer and cancer have been detected and treated following cervical screening.
Back to basics – what’s involved during a smear test? Find out here.