A great week for Vicky Phelan and the other brave cervical cancer campaigners. They got an apology from the Taoiseach in the Dail. He apologised for a litany of failures in how cervical screening operated in our country over many years. The apology was gracious and long over due.
We owe thanks to Vicky Phelan
Thanks to the strength and courage of Vicky Phelan and her fellow campaigners, major changes have taken place in cervical cancer screening. They have shone a much needed light on how our health care system operates and forced through much needed change. You can’t but admire them. The amount of time and energy that has been focused in this area is amazing. But it really does show the incredible double standards we have on women’s health.
Were you ever screened?
The double standard is so big no one seems to see it. Yes, the cervical cancer screening programme had major flaws and treated women disgracefully. Yes, it was right there was outrage. But where is the similar outrage over the flawed alcohol screening programme?
Because alcohol harm kills nearly as many people in just one month as cervical cancer does in a year.
The alcohol screening programme was terminated
The World Health Organisation recommends all patients be screening annually for potential harm. They even produced guidelines on how to do it. So Ireland introduced an alcohol screening programme. The HSE and the Irish College of General Practitioners had a pilot programme way back in 2006. It got good results but it was not funded and it came to a halt. There was no outcry in the media over the lack of support for alcohol screening.
The Elephant in the room
When it comes to alcohol, society has been so brainwashed we just can’t see the absolute scandal in our attitudes to the psychoactive drug that is alcohol. We can’t see the costs to ourselves and the cost to our children. In Irish society , alcohol is a drug you have to apologise for not taking.
Maybe we need a few Vicky Phelans in alcohol?
We’ve had people just as talented and formidable as Vicky Phelan try to raise the alcohol harm issue. Many of them brave women who have suffered from alcohol harm..
Our own Valerie Farragher featured in a full length TV programme and continues to campaign. Emma went public on her experiences as did Aoife McElwain and Alison Canavan. We’ve also had John Higgins who lost his son due to alcohol harm.
The President refuses to go to the GAA final
Dr Michael Loftus, now in his 90’s and previously a GP in Mayo, was a long time campaigner against alcohol. He became President of the GAA and at one stage refused to go to All Ireland finals because the GAA at that stage accepted alcohol sponsorships. (Thankfully the GAA no longer do this)
We’ve had the comedian Des Bishop do funny, entertaining, insightful documentaries about alcohol.
So it’s not for lack of high profile campaigners that we’re still drowning in alcohol harm.
The cervical cancer campaigners don’t have a big well-funded skilled effective opposition group distorting the facts. This opposition group use every possible tactic to ensure we see alcohol harm as just a few irresponsible people who can’t control their drinking.
They’re so good at lobbying.
Just one example, in this year’s “austerity Brexit” budget they got to keep a tax relief costing €5.8 million. So now they’re giving our Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohue his very own beer, called Paschal‘s Pilsner. See the Irish Times report below.
So I don’t think we’ll be getting an apology any time soon for the lack of alcohol screening. Screening that would help people recognise alcohol harm before it actually happens. Screening that helps prevent people becoming addicted to alcohol. Screening that would signal a major change in our attitudes towards alcohol. Since the initial screening project stopped over 10,000 people have died from alcohol harm.
So an apology would show a belated recognition that our Government has been too friendly to the alcohol industry and not listened enough to health care professionals and alcohol harm campaigners.
PS “Overcoming” the new book by Vicky Phelan is now available and so far I’m finding it a great read.