Emma Mhic Mhathúna was looking forward to making her children’s dreams come true by bringing them to the ‘Late Late Toy Show’ in December. Instead they’re living their worst nightmare watching their mother being buried this week – condemned to death after receiving two incorrect smear test results.
When we heard the news of her death, we stopped what we were doing and shed a tear for her, for her children, for the fact that she’ll never see them again. Despite a grand payout from Quest CervicalCheck services and the HSE, the €7.5m will never fill the void of a lost parent. A mother doesn’t have a price.
But now that Emma is gone, and eloquent words have been spoken about her across media and Government ministries, her legacy must ensure appropriate measures will be taken across the Department of Health so that no more women have to suffer like she did.
One of the macabre ‘benefits’ of the CervicalCheck scandal is that each time someone dies, it will come to the forefront of the public’s attention again and people in charge will be pressurised to deliver resolutions.
To honour Emma, this Government and the next must stop treating the State health service as second class, cutting corners where possible. The recent farce where letters from women caught up in the controversy ended up being sent to the Department of Agriculture displays an ‘only-in-Ireland’ negligence.
The Scally report found that since 2010 CervicalCheck has not had a single accountable senior person responsible for the delivery of the programme on a full-time basis. This is handy for some.
It was Emma’s dying wish that the State be put under pressure to get Hiqa to investigate the errors on what happened in the labs reading the smear tests. This has yet to occur. There is an obligation under standards of public health and safety to do this. This is a disgrace and the words of comfort from those responsible are meaningless.
We need people with faces, so that, should something happen, we don’t get passed around in circles like most customer complaints departments. Lots of finger pointing, lots of excuses, but inevitably, no one to hold up their hand in a system that was doomed to fail.
We need expertise, governance, no shortcuts, no cheapening of lives. A commission of investigation and the 50 recommendations from the Scally report need to be put in place now.
The report suggested CervicalCheck collate and publish annual data on reporting rates for all categories, broken down by provider. This needs to happen for the sake of transparency.
The Department of Health should examine the current arrangements for patients to have access to their hospital medical records. “It would make sense to check, check, and recheck the smear test rather than hand out the big cheque,” Emma said, but alas can we be sure this is really happening?
In the absence of people being made accountable, we, the public, should put pressure on the department so that the screening process is fit for purpose, to make it one she would be proud of.
As women of Ireland, I think we can take nothing but inspiration from Emma who, despite the horrific death sentence she received, refused to be a victim.
“Whether I am dying or not, justice is the priority here. I was not going to come into court a victim. I came in a victor,” she said in June outside the Four Courts after receiving her settlement. “I am a very strong character and they realised what they were up against.”
Emma Mhic Mhahtúna, Vicky Phelan and other women caught up in this crisis are real warriors, heroines, chosen in a strange twist by this crisis to bring to light this seismic scandal. We should be inspired by them, rather than get hysterical about small stuff, as seems to be commonplace at the moment. These women fight battles in their weakened and ill state; we applaud them and make sure these battles aren’t in vain.