A scandal over cervical checks is a sign of a bigger problem in Ireland

Demonstrators march in protest of the national cervical check screening program, which has been embroiled in a series of scandals for more than a year.

(CNN)For months, Sharon had been anxiously waiting the results of her pap smear test.

She had taken the test back in December under Ireland's national cervical check screening program, and as she had taken it annually for years, she was expecting to receive the results back in six weeks' time.
When she hadn't received her results by the spring, Sharon, who Ireland's health authority identified only by her first name, started to worry. In April, after first contacting CervicalCheck, the screening program, she sent a series of emails to Ireland's Department of Health outlining her concerns regarding the significant delay. They told her there had been a general slowdown in turnaround for test results.
    By June, after doggedly pursuing answers, officials from the screening program eventually admitted there had been a glitch, saying that "due to an IT issue in the laboratory" her results had never been issued.
    And Sharon wasn't the only one.
    Out of 4,088 women who had taken a smear test from December 2018 to July 2019, 873 hadn't received their tests, according to the MacCraith report, a review commissioned by the health authority into what had happened.
    Days later, another woman identifying herself only as Ms. Scullion came forward to the Irish Times, exposing yet another mistake in the cervical screening process.
    Scullion, like Sharon, was one of the 873 women who hadn't received her results for months. When she finally got the letter in August, it said that she had tested negative for human papilloma virus (HPV). But Scullion knows that she's HPV positive.
    After she made her story public, Ireland's health service, the HSE, said that over 400 women had also received a letter with an "inaccuracy."
    The revelations have marked yet the latest chapter in a years-long controversy over cervical screenings that has rocked the country.
    And by challenging the system, Sharon and Scullion have joined a group of women whose push for answers have unearthed a cataclysmic series of scandals within the health service, controversies that continue to raise questions about what womens' rights activists view as the prevalence of institutionalized misogyny within it and Irish society.
    Dr. Mary McAuliffe, historian and lecturer in Gender Studies at University College Dublin, says the government's response to the problem demonstrates that women are not a priority.
    McAuliffe told CNN that current attitudes in the government reflect an "almost unconscious demeaning of women's health and women's bodies" where "women's bodies and the risk to women's bodies are not important -- and in particular their reproductive bodies and their health care is seen as secondary to maybe money, to power, and to a patriarchal system that has always seen women as second class citizens."
    Ireland's Department of Health did not specifically address McAuliffe's allegation in comments to CNN, but did say that the government is soon expected to issue a formal apology to the women affected by the failures of the screening program in the next Dail (parliamentary) term.

    'They knew I was ill'

    The failures of that program all started in 2011, when Vicky Phelan, a mother of two, received a letter in the mail from CervicalCheck, confirming a negative pap smear test.
    Three years later, she took another one, and it came back positive. In July 2014, Phelan was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Before she was diagnosed, unbeknown to her, an audit was carried out on the first test.
    That audit found that the results of her 2011 test had been inaccurate, and that there had been a strong indication of cancer.