Dr Vicky Phelan was honoured at a civic reception hosted by Limerick City and County Council in Dooradoyle on Thursday evening, October 18.
Although her roots may be in Kilkenny, Phelan admitted: “I love living in Limerick- it’s my home, it’s my children’s home, and this is a very special day for me.”
The civic reception was held in recognition of Phelan’s work in exposing the Cervical Check scandal- in which an estimated 221 women were not made aware of false-negative smear test results.
After discovering this information had been withheld, Phelan took a case against the laboratory in question, Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc., but refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement when she was made aware of a possible ten other woman who had also had the audit of their test results withheld, leading Phelan to share her story with the media.
Mayor of Limerick City and County Council, Cllr James Collins commended Vicky on her unwavering bravery in the face of her terminal diagnosis and in her pursuit of justice for all the women affected
“You forced us to stop and listen to your story, then you demanded an investigation and you refused to go quietly. You improved healthcare for the women of Ireland, lead a campaign for change and better standards, advocating for the victims and their families, juggling national radio and TV appearances with the reality of your own mortality,” he said.
“You fought the health system, you fought the government, and you have undoubtedly saved the lives of many of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters across this island.”
Dr Phelan took the opportunity to thank everyone in attendance, admitted that her campaigning, while “not what I would have chosen for myself” was certainly “what I was put on this earth to do.”
Speaking about what drove her to share her story with the public, Phelan said: “The big drive for me was to help other women in my situation with a terminal diagnosis- to give people hope, because I was given no hope in January.”
Phelan also spoke about her wish to see the foundation of a researcher role, to be shared by all oncology units in the country in order to give patients alternative treatment options when faced with a terminal diagnosis, a task that she was forced to undertake herself:
“It’s an awful indictment on our country that I had to go off and research all the information for the drug that I’m on myself- nobody gave me any help, I did it all myself at a time when I was very, very ill.”
Phelan is now pushing for accountability within the public service, calling for legal measures to be introduced to ensure a scandal, such as CervicalCheck, does not happen again:
“We need accountability in this country…In order for that to happen we need to have legislation, which we don’t have at the moment…otherwise it’s just going to keep happening, scandal after scandal and nothing will change.”
Despite an immensely difficult year for Vicky and her family, Cllr Collins justly pointed out: “In a big year for Limerick, when sporting heroes have taught us the values of courage, perseverance and resilience, you Vicky are our greatest hero.
“You faced death and lived with bravery, belief and a selfless determination to expose the rights and improve the lives of others, and in doing so, you have honoured every citizen of Limerick.”