Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

13.50 22 Nov 2020


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Vicky Phelan says she and the rest of the 221+ patient advocacy group see 'no point' in continuing talks about the CervicalCheck Tribunal.

She says they don't believe the tribunal will be able to achieve what they want it to, and that it will be 'as adversarial' as going to the High Court.

The CervicalCheck campaigner says 'inexcusable delays' in establishing the tribunal mean the 'landscape has changed fundamentally'.

The tribunal was announced last year with the aim of allowing women to have their cases heard without having to go to court.

It has suffered a number of delays since its announcement.

While work is getting underway on the tribunal, recent weeks have seen patient advocates raise concerns about the process.

On Friday, 221+ confirmed it would no longer be engaging with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's department about the terms of the tribunal.

They say they will support and inform members who do go down the tribunal route, but that the group believes the tribunal in its current form has been 'overtaken by previous judgements'.

Speaking to On The Record with Gavan Reilly, Ms Phelan said they had a letter on Stephen Donnelly's desk within two days of his appointment as minister, seeking a meeting about the tribunal.

Vicky Phelan: 'No point' in continuing talks with Government about CervicalCheck Tribunal

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He said: "It took almost two months to get a meeting at this stage.

"Obviously we understand we're in the middle of a COVID pandemic, but at the same time - given the tribunal was ready to be established at that stage - we thought it was important to meet him."

That meeting has been followed by lots of Zoom meetings and many exchanges of 'quite long and technical' letters about the issues.

However, despite the 'protracted negotiations', 221+ says key concerns remains.

Ms Phelan said: "If the tribunal had been established when it was supposed to be established, we wouldn't be having these issues or these arguments.

"The problem is that the landscape has changed fundamentally since the tribunal was conceived back in June 2019. So the [Ruth] Morrissey case and the Supreme Court appeal on that in March 2020, and the subsequent [Patricia] Carrick case which settled in September, have set a new baseline for the tribunal.

"Then the inexcusable delays of more than two years in establishing the tribunal have meant that many of our members are at very least at serious risk of having [their cases] thrown out of the High Court or tribunal due to statue of limitation issues."

'No point' in continuing talks

Ms Phelan said there are genuine concerns at play, and she'd 'hate people to think' the 221+ group is simply arguing for the sake of arguing.

She explained they believe there will be 'no advantage' for many women in taking a case to the tribunal over the court.

However, she said that it may be quicker for some women or their families as the courts are prioritising dealing with the cases of terminally ill women.

She said: "We've had to argue for every little point we're trying to get.

"In fairness to the Minister... he did come back with a letter from the States Claim Agency confirming that if a woman is to take a case before the tribunal that they will not join the lab as defendants, they will only join them as third parties. That is one win we did get."

Ultimately, she said the tribunal will be held 'in private and in a nicer room' - but that for most women it will not be a real alternative to going through the courts.

She suggested: "There's no point in continuing talks further, as far as we're concerned.

"This is about getting justice for women, and providing a tribunal that offers an alternative to the High Court - which this does not.

"We will have a number of members who will take a case at the tribunal - that is absolutely fine. We will support our members whatever they do."

Main image: File photo of Vicky Phelan. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

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