Government satisfaction levels suffer after cervical cancer controversy
New legal actions heap pressure on official response to CervicalCheck controversy Fall in approval ratings much sharper among women than men, poll shows
The Government’s approval ratings have slumped in recent weeks, with a large decline among women in the wake of the cervical cancer screening scandal.
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI shows that the satisfaction rating of the Government has fallen from 44 per cent in the last poll in mid-April – the highest rating for any government since 2011 – to 37 per cent.
The fall has been much sharper among women than men.
In April, 41 per cent of women approved of the way the Government was doing its job, with 51 per cent disapproving. Today, the satisfaction rating among women has fallen to 29 per cent, with 58 per cent saying they are now dissatisfied.
The net dissatisfaction rate – the difference between those who are satisfied and those who are dissatisfied with the Government – among women is now 29 points, up from just 10 points last month.
While it is not unusual for a government to have a net dissatisfaction rating, this is an extremely large and rare move in one month and coincides with the cervical screening revelations. New legal actions taken against the State heaped further pressure on the Government to step up its response to the controversy around the failure of the CervicalCheck screening programme to inform women about incorrect smear tests.
Two more women began legal proceedings against the Health Service Executive (HSE) and US laboratories over alleged delays in the identification of abnormalities in smear tests prior to being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
These are the first cases to come before the High Court since the controversy arose last month after Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled her action against US laboratory Clinical Pathology Laboratories for ¤2.5 million.
A HSE investigation has shown that 162 women were not told about audits revealing incorrect tests. Mr Justice Kevin Cross set dates in July for the two new court actions and a third taken by a woman with ovarian cancer who was led to re-examine her own screening history in light of the CervicalCheck controversy.
She too alleges that her illness should have been diagnosed earlier and that past tests missed her cancer.
Cian O’Carroll, the Co Tipperary solicitor who represented Ms Phelan, is acting for the three women.
Speaking about the two with cervical cancer, he said: “The nature and extent of the harm is so great that unfortunately these women, in the opinions of their doctors, have very little time left and both cases then must be treated with the greatest urgency.” One woman is taking a case against Medlab Pathology, the sister company of the lab sued by Ms Phelan, while the other is being taken against Medlab and a second US-owned lab that tests for CervicalCheck, Quest Diagnostics Ireland.
Access to files
The cases were raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty who said the women’s legal representatives were refused access to files promised to them last week when they arrived to get their documents last Friday. “This was done in the presence of the programme manager for CervicalCheck John Gleeson and they were escorted off the premises,” he said.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said in the Dáil that no victims should be treated in a way that adds to their trauma. The State Claims Agency, which defends the State in legal actions, said that it will engage with the laboratories “with the aim of resolving these cases in a sensitive manner as a matter of urgency and without the requirement for a court hearing.”
The cases will increase pressure on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to follow through on his pledge last week to help the sick women avoid the ordeal of trials and to settle with them and pursue the labs.