Monday 23 July 2018

Cancer scandal: Gravely ill women in urgent lawsuits

Women with advanced cervical cancer who were caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal are to issue legal proceedings as early as this week which their lawyers will seek to fast-track through the courts. (Stock picture)
Women with advanced cervical cancer who were caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal are to issue legal proceedings as early as this week which their lawyers will seek to fast-track through the courts. (Stock picture)
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Women with advanced cervical cancer who were caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal are to issue legal proceedings as early as this week which their lawyers will seek to fast-track through the courts.

The proceedings are being prepared on behalf of a number of women who are said to be "gravely ill" and whose cases require "urgent and immediate" action.

Cian O'Carroll, the solicitor who acted for Vicky Phelan, the terminally ill mother-of-two who brought the scandal to light, confirmed this weekend that legal proceedings were imminent. He said he was aware of a small number of women who "are in a very urgent situation, just as Vicky Phelan was".

The women will be seeking information but also have substantial care costs, according to Mr O'Carroll.

He said he was aware of women who have "requirements for palliative and end- of-life care in the home, for all of the extra care requirements that one would associate with an advanced cancer, together with putting together a plan to provide for their absence from the family for the future".

Mr O'Carroll said having that done as quickly as possible was imperative, so that they can focus on their ongoing treatment.

It is expected that in each case, the proceedings will be issued against the HSE and the laboratory that conducted the screening.

The women are among 209 who have been identified by the HSE's serious incident management team which is investigating the "failings" revealed by the CervicalCheck audit that was exposed by Ms Phelan.

These urgent cases referred to by Mr O'Carroll are in addition to 10 active legal claims revealed by HSE Director General Tony O'Brien at an Oireachtas committee last week. These include six cases in which legal proceedings have started, and four involving solicitors' letters.

Legal sources say a redress scheme promised by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar could take time to set up. He said the scheme would be for women "whose cancer was missed, beyond normal error".

Ms Phelan is expected to meet Mr Varadkar, in the coming days, according to her solicitor. Mr Varadkar invited her onto the Government's scoping inquiry last Friday.

Ms Phelan (43) settled a High Court action against a US laboratory that was contracted by CervicalCheck, the cervical screening programme, for €2.5m, without admission of liability.

She was told last year that a 2011 smear test was incorrectly read, and she was wrongly given the all-clear. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. In January this year, she was given a prognosis of six to 12 months to live.

Documents she obtained in her legal action revealed the delayed disclosure by CervicalCheck of the results of audits of her smear tests.

Ms Phelan's disclosures triggered a massive investigation by the HSE, which has so far found 209 women who were audited by CervicalCheck after they were diagnosed with cancer whose tests "could have provided a different outcome". Seventeen of those women have died, and 15 were not told they had been audited.

The HSE has so far been in contact with 198 women or with their families.

Sunday Independent

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