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Surge in number of cases taken to court in wake of Phelan settlement

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Court victory: Emma Mhic Mhathúna won a €7.5m settlement, but later died from her illness. Photo: Collins Courts

Court victory: Emma Mhic Mhathúna won a €7.5m settlement, but later died from her illness. Photo: Collins Courts

Court victory: Emma Mhic Mhathúna won a €7.5m settlement, but later died from her illness. Photo: Collins Courts

Sixty-three High Court actions related to the cervical cancer screening programme have been initiated since the €2.5m settlement with Vicky Phelan last April.

Court records reveal an explosion in the number of actions initiated against the HSE and screening laboratories since the settlement highlighted serious problems with the CervicalCheck programme eight months ago.

More cases are expected to be filed in the coming months.

The updated figures come just weeks after a senior member of the judiciary called for more judges to be appointed.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross said the High Court personal injuries list had been swamped with complex cases, including those related to the CervicalCheck controversy. He warned that women suing over alleged screening failings or delayed diagnosis of cancer could die before their cases were heard.

Despite the stark warning, there have been no signs the Government intends to appoint additional judges to the High Court.

Ms Phelan, a Limerick mother-of-two, was diagnosed with cancer three years after 2011 smear test results were incorrectly reported as clear.

Prior to her settlement, just eight High Court actions had been initiated against laboratories involved in the CervicalCheck programme.

It later emerged that more than 200 women were not informed of an audit which revised their earlier, negative smear tests.

The HSE is listed as a defendant in all 63 cases initiated since the Phelan settlement, while New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics is listed as a co-defendant in 42 of the actions.

Another screening laboratory, MedLab Pathology in Dublin, is listed as a co-defendant in 27 actions.

MedLab's sister firm Clinical Pathology Laboratories (CPL) is listed as a co-defendant in nine cases, while CPL's owners Sonic Healthcare are co-defendants in seven. The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, which also has a screening laboratory, is listed as a co-defendant in eight cases.

The National Maternity Hospital is a co-defendant in six cases, while Tallaght Hospital is a co-defendant in one.

A number of hospital consultants are also being sued.

Solicitor Cian O'Carroll, who represented Ms Phelan, is acting for plaintiffs in 35 of the 63 cases.

Although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledged last May that no woman caught up in the cervical cancer scandal would have to go to court to get compensation, a tribunal model suggested to the Government by a senior judge will still require women affected to prove negligence.

A settlement of €7.5m was reached with the terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna. She later died.

A second case, involving another woman, was settled on a confidential basis.

However, a third case, taken by Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul against the HSE, Quest Diagnostics and MedLab Pathology is still before the High Court. She is suing over the alleged misinterpretation of her cervical smears in 2009 and 2012.

The HSE admitted it owed a duty of care to Ms Morrissey, but not to her husband. The laboratories deny all claims.

Irish Independent