Saturday 23 March 2019

'We were very worried' - senior medic raised concerns about outsourcing of smear slides in 2008, court told

Dr David Gibbons pictured leaving the Four Courts after giving evidence during a High Court action. Collins Courts
Dr David Gibbons pictured leaving the Four Courts after giving evidence during a High Court action. Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A senior medic told the High Court he raised concerns about the outsourcing of the smear slides of Irish women to US laboratories 11 years ago and warned of "problems in the long term".

Dr David Gibbons resigned as chair of the Cytology / Histology Group within the Quality Assurance Committee of the National Cervical Screening Programme along with seven others after raising their concerns in 2008.

"We were very worried. We felt it would cause problems in the long term," he said.

He told the court up to eight  Irish testing laboratories were "mothballed" when the first contract for testing of the Irish smear tests was given to a US laboratory in 2008.

A consultant pathologist, Dr Gibbons was giving evidence on the ninth day of of the action by Ruth Morrissey who has sued the HSE and two US laboratories over the alleged misreading of her smear slides in 2009 and 2012.

Dr Gibbons told the court that data from slides which had been tested by US laboratories around 2008 showed showed 2.4pc of all slides tested in Irish laboratories reported pre-cancerous cells whereas the US laboratories found less.

He said the US had a low sensitivity test but a shorter recall time of one year compared to Ireland at the time which had a three year recall.

He said he and other pathologists raised their concerns about outsourcing with the then head of the National Screening Service Tony O'Brien.

Seriously ill: Ruth Morrissey has sued the HSE and two US laboratories. Photo: Collins Courts
Seriously ill: Ruth Morrissey has sued the HSE and two US laboratories. Photo: Collins Courts

"We were very worried, we felt it would cause problems in the long term," he told the court.

He said the main problem was that two different systems were being put together  and you could not have low sensitivity testing with a long recall interval.

There was a huge furore at the time about the issue.

"You run the risk of missing pre-cancer over a period and there was a danger of allowing cancer to develop that would not have developed otherwise," he said.

Patrick Hanratty SC, for the HSE asked Dr Gibbons if he had a grudge against the HSE over outsourcing.

He said he "certainly didn't".

Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul Morrissey of Kylemore, Schoolhouse Road, Monaleen, Co Limerick  have sued the HSE and the US laboratory Quest Diagnostics Ireland Ltd with offices at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin along with Medlab Pathology Ltd with offices at Sandyford Business Park, Dublin 18.

It is claimed there was an alleged failure to correctly report and there was an alleged misinterpretation of her  smear samples taken in 2009 and 2012.

The HSE has admitted it owed a duty of care to Ms Morrissey. The laboratories deny all claims.

Earlier US laboratory CervicalCheck Programme Manager John Gleeson  said US laboratory Quest Diagnostics questioned the need to release the results of audits on Irish smear tests but it was short lived.

He said he did not agree with the Scally Report which referred to Quest Diagnostics  disagreeing strongly with the release of audit information .

Mr Gleeson said a legal letter arrived but he would not say they strongly disagreed but they questioned the need for it.

“It was short lived and put aside,” he added and he presumed the laboratory was concerned about litigation.

Ms Morrissey's counsel, Patrick Treacy, said the results of the audit review of her smear slides were sent to Ms Morrissey's treating consultant in 2016, one year and two weeks after they became known.

Asked what was the explanation for the delay of over a year, Mr Gleeson said: "We were working on a historic  case load, we got to Ruth Morrissey in June 2016."

The case continues.

Online Editors

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