State's offer of mediation through media 'deeply hurtful' says 'gravely-ill' mother whose cervical smears were 'misinterpreted'
A mother who has cervical and breast cancer after getting two incorrect smear test results has described her hurt at only learning through the media that this afternoon the State is offering her mediation as an alternative to continuing her court ordeal.
The offer from the State Claims Agency was made through a press release – but neither the woman’s lawyers nor the family involved were told in advance.
Ruth Morrissey (37) and her husband Paul of Monaleen, Co Limerick have endured gruelling days in the witness box of the High Court this week.
She got incorrect results from two cervical smears in 2009 and 2012. She now has cervical and breast cancer.
She told the court earlier this week of the anguish at leaving her three year old daughter and husband behind.
In a statement today, the State Claims Agency (SCA) said it was offering mediation to the family.
It said it was committed to expediting resolution of all cervical cancer mis-diagnosis cases in a sensitive manner, working co-operatively with the co-defendant laboratories, utilising mediation as an alternative to a formal court hearing, and placing a high priority on treating the people who have made the claims, and their families, with dignity and compassion.
The HSE is a named co-defendant in the Ruth Morrissey case alongside two laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Medlab. The SCA is managing this case on behalf of the HSE in accordance with its statutory role.
The SCA said it is not acting on behalf of the co-defendant laboratories, which have separate legal representation.
“An attempt earlier this week to resolve this case through mediation was unsuccessful. The SCA seeks to resolve claims through mediation wherever possible.
“The SCA has admitted liability in respect of the non-disclosure of the audit of Ms Morrissey’s smear tests. However, neither of the laboratories has admitted liability in respect of the smear tests they assessed.”
In line with the SCA’s policy of resolving claims through mediation where possible and the principles outlined by the Government in May, the SCA has today written to the two laboratories requesting that they join the SCA in resuming mediation talks as soon as possible with Ms Morrissey’s legal team.
The SCA believes that mediation, which avoids the difficult and adversarial environment that a court hearing involves, provides the best route for a resolution without adding to the considerable distress and trauma that Ms Morrissey and her family have already suffered.
Speaking on behalf of the family, their solicitor Cian O'Carroll, said this afternoon the impression from the SCA press release is one of a frustrated but benign defendant, seeking to resolve this case without a trial.
“Ruth and Paul Morrissey have said this evening how they feel deep hurt that the State and its claims agency have sought to misrepresent the sham mediation that took place last week in a poorly veiled attempt to spare them the criticism that is rightly theirs for their conduct of this case.
“Ruth and Paul believe that the State showed no interest whatsoever in resolving their case by mediation prior to the media focus on their ordeal in court this week.
“In the weeks leading up to trial, the State rejected several dates for mediation offered by Ruth and Paul and only agreed to Mediation this week when the presiding Judge invited them and their contracted laboratories to so.
“At that mediation - which our clients had understood to be confidential though now it forms part of a press release to suit the purposes of the State Claims Agency - a woman who is gravely-ill together with her distraught husband were required to wait around for almost four hours of ‘mediation’ during which not a single cent was offered.
“Since Monday, there have been four days during which the State could have shown some effort to engage in settlement discussions and it chose not to. Now, on Friday evening, and without even showing the respect to inform Ruth or Paul of their press statement, the State Claims Agency seeks to give an altogether different impression to the general public of their role in this shameful case to date.
Mr O’Carroll said: “If the State wish to conduct a negotiation, they know well how to make such an approach – it is one made through the respective legal teams for the parties – not through a media release clearly aimed at offering cover to the exposed flank of government, embarrassed by the obvious conflict between how Ruth and Paul have been treated this week and the remarks of Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris who gave such clear and public assurances just 10 weeks ago that no other woman would be dragged through the courts as Vicky Phelan had been as a result of the CervicalCheck scandal.
“A meaningful approach to dispute resolution begins with sincerity and not with a cynical and self-serving press release.”