A patient support group, 221+, for women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy has been launched.
The group was founded by Vicky Phelan, Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh, who have all been directly affected by the scandal, with the support of the Irish Cancer Society, the Marie Keating Foundation and the Irish Patients Association.
It will operate independently of the HSE, but will be funded by the Department of Health.
The group aims to represent the women and families known to be affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, as well as those who are as yet unknown. It will provide information, advice and support to those affected and all communications will be confidential.
The 221+ group also aims to provide women with advice and expertise in relation to treatments, including information on clinical trials, and new and emerging drugs.
Information and resources will be available to 221+ members on the group's website. While this will contain some public information, there will also be a portal which is only available to members with a unique access code. This portal will also include an ‘ask the specialist' service, which will allow members to send questions in confidence.
Speaking at the launch of the group, Vicky Phelan, said that this controversy has been very traumatic for all those involved, and ‘part of the process in healing from trauma is connecting with others who have been affected'.
"One of the main functions of the 221+ patient support group is to provide a safe, open, caring, supportive environment to allow this healing to take place,' she explained.
Also speaking at the launch, Lorraine Walsh said that the support she has received from fellow women and their families has been so comforting.
"The day I found out I had cancer was what I thought was the worst day of my life but I was wrong. The day I found out that I shouldn't have got cancer had my smear been read properly was the worst day of my life. I am now riddled every day with the awful thoughts of ‘what if?', which has shaken me to my very core and challenged me mentally and emotionally beyond any physical or emotional challenges that I ever experienced before," she said.
However, she noted that it is ‘soothing' to be around people who understand what she is going through.
Meanwhile, according to Stephen Teap, while some people have gone public with their cases, ‘there are many others suffering in silence in the background'.
"One of the main purposes of this support group is reaching out to everyone involved in this, to let them know they're not alone, offer them support and help in an environment they can fully trust and stand shoulder to shoulder with them, while taking the steps together to see this out," he said.