Family of woman (63) who died of breast cancer receives apology after two BreastCheck screenings misread

Mrs O’Keeffe got the all clear on her 2011 and 2013 mammograms but in 2014 was diagnosed with terminal cancer

Patrick O Keeffe ( Patsy) leaving the Four Courts, where an action was settled over the death of his wife Kay O'Keeffe who died in May 2017 from breast cancer Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

The National Screening Service (NSS) has apologised to the husband and family of a Tipperary woman who died of breast cancer, after it failed to detect abnormalities in her BreastCheck mammograms.

Two opportunities were missed to intervene earlier for mother-of-three Kay O’Keeffe, the NSS acknowledged in a letter of apology read to the High Court today.

The NSS, which is a part of the HSE and runs the BreastCheck programme, said it wished to acknowledge a breach of duty on its part and “admit these errors occurred".

“We accept that this delay materially contributed to the tragic outcome for your wife. We can only express our sincere regret to you and your family for what has happened and its devastating consequences,” the letter to Kay’s husband Patrick ‘Patsy’ O’Keeffe said.

The letter from the NSS chief executive, Fiona Murphy was read out in the court as Patrick O’Keeffe from Clonmel, Co Tipperary settled a High Court action over his wife’s death.

Mrs O’ Keeffe, who was also a grandmother of two, was 63 years of age when she died of breast cancer six years ago.

Referring to two BreastCheck mammogram images for Mrs O’Keeffe in 2011 and 2013, the letter noted an abnormality is seen on both sets of imaging and Mrs O’Keeffe should have been recalled to the assessment clinic for further work up on both occasions.

“I would like to sincerely apologise for the fact that these mammographic abnormalities were not detected. I wish to acknowledge a breach of duty on our behalf and admit these errors occurred and that two opportunities were missed to intervene earlier,” the letter added.

Mrs O’ Keeffe got the all clear on her 2011 and 2013 mammograms, but in June 2014, after she found a lump on her breast, she was diagnosed with incurable Stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer spread to her liver and brain and she died on May 12, 2017.

It was the O’Keeffe case that there was a delay of three years and two months in initiating treatment for Mrs O’Keeffe’s cancer.

It was claimed their experts would say that the delay allegedly allowed a cancer, which was probably curable in March 2011, to become categorically incurable in 2014.

Outside the Four Courts, in a statement read by his solicitor Lorcan Dunphy of Donal T Ryan solicitors, Mr O’Keeffe said the responsibility now rests with BreastCheck “to provide the assurance to women in Ireland that such failures can never happen again”.

The admission and public apology it said “provides a level of justice for Kay, her husband and her family for these catastrophic failures and their tragic outcome”.

“Kay was a wonderful person who was devoted to her husband and children. She is gone from her family way too soon,” it said.

The statement added: “At two separate meetings with BreastCheck management in 2018, Kay’s husband asked how such failures could have happened.

"In particular, how could two consecutive mammograms, on the same person, performed two years apart, be misread on each occasion, when every mammogram is read independently by two consultant breast radiologists.

“It is extremely hard to understand how the failure to detect abnormalities on four independent readings occurred and clearly indicates a process failure.”

Mr O’Keeffe had sued BreastCheck and the National Screening Service both of Parnell Street, Dublin over the death of his wife.

It was claimed there was a failure to refer Mrs O’Keeffe for a second opinion and a failure to consider or make the correct diagnosis.

A delay it was claimed was caused in Mrs O’Keeffe’s treatment for breast cancer which allowed a probably curable cancer to become incurable.

The court that liability was initially denied in the case but when the case went to mediation a breach of duty was admitted.

Noting the settlement Mr Justice Paul Coffey extended his deepest sympathy to Mr O’Keeffe and his family.