Monday 23 September 2019

Terminally ill Ruth Morrissey to get €700,000 while US lab appeals €2.1m High Court award

Fighter: Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts after a High Court judgment. Photo: Collins
Fighter: Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts after a High Court judgment. Photo: Collins

Tim Healy

Terminally ill Ruth Morrissey is to get €700,000 as a condition of a US laboratory being allowed to appeal the €2.1m High Court award to her and her husband in their landmark action relating to the CervicalCheck controversy.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross granted a stay on his final judgement against the HSE and Quest Diagnostics and MedLab providing the €700,000 is paid straight away to the 37 year old Limerick mother who is battling cervical cancer which has spread to the bone.

US laboratory Quest Diagnostics found to have misrported Ms Morrissey's 2009 cervical smear slide yesterday confirmed in the High Court it is to seek an expedited "leapfrog appeal" directly to the Supreme Court.

Counsel for Quest, Michael Cush SC, told the court the issue of "absolute  confidence” in relation to testing would be a part of the appeal to the Supreme Court along with the weight had been attached to the audit results not being disclosed and the blind review of slides.

Mr Justice Cross in his ruling last week held in the Morrissey case that “absolute confidence” is the screeners practical duty in relation to their analysis of what is on a slide.

Mr Cush submitted that a key case from the UK on the issue was "not properly interpreted."

MedLab's counsel Conor Halpin said his client was still examining the judgment but his instructions were to seek a stay in the event of an appeal.

Counsel for Ms Morrissey, Jeremy Maher SC, said said there had been a misinterpretation of the judgment in the week since it was handed down. The Morrissey side, he said, endorsed the judgment.

Mr Justice Cross said he had decided "absolutely nothing new."  He said the need for a screener to have absolute confidence was endorsed by the evidence in this case.

Referring what he called " some of the hysterical comments" in the last week, Mr Justice Cross said "they should read what I said" in the judgment.  

Mr Justice Cross turned down an application  by Patrick Hanratty SC for the HSE  defer making final orders in the case for a week.

The court heard the HSE was examining the judgement and its implications.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Morrisey's solicitor Cian O'Carroll said the laboratory is entitled to appeal the decision and that is how the law works.

"It is good if the case can be adopted by the Supreme Court so it can be dealt with more quickly and in a very definitive way," he said.

Referring to comment in relation to the case in the last week, Mr O'Carroll said an important element has been "the really remarkable outrageous and hysterical remarks" which have been made.

"Only today a threat was made to the very existence of screening in Ireland.

"All that happened in this case is that law that has been established for some 20 years was restated and clarified in the way it applies to an element of one screening programme," he said.

Meanwhile, the HSE has  written to the Department of Health asking that part of the High Court judgment in the Ruth Morrissey case be appealed.

Interim HSE chief Ann O’Connor has suggested the appeal should look for clarity on the term “absolute confidence.”

In a letter to Department of Health Director General Jim Breslin she said that "judgment requires screeners to have absolute confidence" when determining that a smear test is negative.

"Setting such a high bar in law for population-based screen programmes creates an environment that will result in unnecessary investigations and treatments among healthy people."

She claimed it "threatens the viability of the screening programme".

The absolute confidence reference was contained in the ruling of Judge Kevin Cross in the case of Ruth Morrissey who was awarded €2.1m in compensation. Ms Morrissey is terminally ill with cervical cancer after getting an incorrect smear test result.

Ms O'Connor also said in the letter that she is "hugely conscious of the serious situation of Ruth Morrissey and the impact that the recent litigation has had on her and her family."

It is  "with reluctance, following consultation with relevant clinicians and clinical bodies that I would strongly recommend that we appeal specific parts of this judgment,” she added.

Judge Cross today described some of the public commentary on his ruling as hysterical and said the absolute confidence rule is not a new standard.

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