Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has died at the age of 48. The mother of two from Limerick died in the early hours of Monday morning at Milford Hospice in Limerick, leaving behind her two children, Amelia (16), and Darragh (10).
Ms Phelan was at the centre of the CervicalCheck cancer scandal, which first emerged in 2018, when Phelan, along with several other women, sued the HSE after they received incorrect smear results for cervical cancer.
In 2011, Ms Phelan, from Annacotty in County Limerick, underwent a smear test for cervical cancer. Although the test showed no abnormalities, she was later diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 – with an internal CervicalCheck review finding that the original result was incorrect. The campaigner was, however, not informed of this until 2017.
She made headlines when she brought legal action against Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, over the incorrect test. The case was settled for €2.5 million without admission of liability. The 2014 review found that 14 other women had ‘false negative’ test results.
In 2018, the HSE confirmed that a total of 206 women in Ireland had developed cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed smear test, 162 of whom had not been informed that the initial results were incorrect. This prompted the resignation of CervicalCheck’s clinical director Dr Grainne Flannelly in April 2018.
Despite being terminally ill, Ms Phelan continued to campaign prominently, and her High Court case was a major catalyst for the controversy gaining public awareness. Her advocacy ultimately prompted other women to come forward, and prompted a series of reviews of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening programme.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin was among those to pay tribute to the mother of two today.