Tuesday 20 March 2018

HSE finally says sorry to mother for cancer blunder

Rebecca O'Malley
Rebecca O'Malley

Eilish O'Regan and Tim Healy

A CANCER misdiagnosis victim last night said she had been "harmed twice over" as she finally ended a long battle for damages from the HSE.

Rebecca O'Malley (48) was speaking after receiving an apology in the High Court as part of a settlement over the misdiagnosis of her breast cancer.

Her long battle for damages against the HSE was finally settled yesterday for a "substantial" but undisclosed sum.

But the Ballina woman revealed that the HSE had been vigorously contesting liability in the case -- even though an independent inquiry already found how she was mistakenly told she had the all-clear from cancer in 2005.

Ms O'Malley went 14 months believing she was clear of the disease before finding out that the opposite was true. She believes her chances of survival have plummeted as a result of the delay, which only emerged in 2007.

The HSE yesterday admitted full liability and also apologised to Ms O'Malley, her husband, Tony, and their children Katie (12), Jamie (11) and Lucy (9).

But Ms O'Malley said it had been a long and difficult road -- as she had to again argue her case and revisit distressing medical evidence from her misdiagnosis.

"The slides which had been wrongly read in 2005 were requested by the HSE team again, and this caused me huge upset. I could not understand why they were doing this to me. Were they trying to prove I had not been misdiagnosed?

"I have had to relive this nightmare again and again for four years, because of the adversarial stand by the HSE. It was only resolved a few days before we reached the steps of the court," she added.

"The present system harms the patient at least twice. I fear many patients who survive medical errors will not have sufficient strength or stamina to take on the might of a major public body with seemingly endless resources."

The mother of three is credited with playing a major role in the decision by the HSE to overhaul breast cancer services in recent years after she went public.

But Ms O'Malley told the Irish Independent that despite the clear evidence of her misdiagnosis, the HSE left her suffering yet more distress for four years.

As her claim went into mediation with the HSE, she had to hire her own experts to prove the impact that the cancer misdiagnosis had on her long-term health.

They found that because of the delay, her chances of survival fell from 80pc to 56pc -- "a little more than a flip of a coin".

"I live every day with that tormenting thought and the implications this could have for my family," she said.

Ms O'Malley had to undergo a mastectomy and is now in remission from cancer.

But she said: "Their negligence has caused my family and myself so much pain and distress and I really needed that to be acknowledged by them. I wanted them to make a meaningful apology."


The HSE and Health Minister James Reilly did not respond to Ms O'Malley's comments last night.

But yesterday in the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine was told that a settlement had been reached after mediation.

An apology was read in court, which stated the HSE "wish to acknowledge the fault in respect in the misdiagnosis of the plaintiff's breast cancer in March 2005".

Ms O'Malley sought damages for the effect of the misdiagnosis and other related issues. She also sought compensation for what she believed was a PR campaign conducted against her by the health authorities.

The court heard she felt this campaign had been waged because she had the courage to go public and speak out about her treatment.

She took the public apology by the HSE as a "positive sign" that it may now be changing its approach to how it deals with those it harmed by misdiagnoses, but added that "they have a long way to go".

In Ms O'Malley's case, two previous inquiries had already established in great detail the blunders that led to the misdiagnosis.

It had already been confirmed that a biopsy sample, which was taken from Ms O'Malley in Limerick Regional Hospital and sent to Cork University Hospital laboratory, was misread by a locum pathologist.

And it could have been picked up in Limerick Regional if proper practice was followed and all specialists involved in her case carried out a review.

Ms O'Malley's long battle for justice first began back in 2007 when the hospitals involved refused her an independent inquiry.

Following intense pressure on then-Health Minister Mary Harney, an investigation was carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority.

As other cases of breast cancer misdiagnosis came to light, the HSE ordered that the number of hospitals carrying out breast cancer diagnosis and surgery be cut on the grounds of safety.

Breast cancer care is now confined to eight specialist centres and each patient's case must be subject to reviewed by a range of specialists.

Irish Independent

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