Tuesday 25 June 2019

Mediation in cervical cancer legal cases not the 'holy grail' we believed it was - Taoiseach admits

  • Bruising criticism over CervicalCheck
  • State now has to wait for expert reports
  • Labs try to stall Ruth's case for months
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Cormac McQuinn and Philip Ryan

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has admitted that mediation in cervical cancer legal cases is not the “holy grail” he believed it would be when he suggested women caught up in the scandal would not have to face the trauma of going to court.

Mr Varadkar also conceded the State would have to wait for “expert reports” on whether or not negligence had occurred, before it could make settlements with women and later pursue the laboratories for costs.

He made the remarks amid continued bruising criticism of the Government’s handling of the screening controversy.

Asked if he was in control of the situation, Mr Varadkar said “not all the time”, but said the Government is “trying to do our best and we are trying to do what is right”.

It comes as legal action being taken by 37-year-old Ruth Morrissey – who has cervical and breast cancer – has been adjourned until September.

The laboratories involved had requested that the case not be resumed until November.

Mr Varadkar has come in for stinging criticism over comments he made in May indicating court cases could be avoided through mediation.

He has since said his comments should have been “more clear” and admitted it’s not possible for the State to stop every case getting to court.

Last night Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley claimed Mr Varadkar “used language and gave commitments that he wasn’t in a position to do and now he’s trying to sort of worm his way out of it”.

Mr Varadkar said he wouldn’t get into an argument over what is a “sensitive issue”.

He said the Government still wants to settle all cases through mediation but acknowledged in some cases this may not be possible.

The Taoiseach said: “I regret that any of this ever happened. I feel very sorry for the women who have been affected.”

He said mediation is being offered in every case and two have been settled in this way.

“One thing that is becoming apparent to me from the last couple of days is that perhaps mediation is not the holy grail or panacea that we thought it was a few months ago.

“I certainly had much more confidence that we could settle all cases through mediation”.

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Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul outside the High Court where she is suing the HSE and laboratories Pic: Collins Courts

He said other mechanisms, like a redress scheme, need to be explored as an alternative to the courts process.

Mr Varadkar said he is open to the idea of a Commission of Investigation into the cervical cancer scandal being held in public.

But he said some patients may prefer to give their evidence in private, and also raised concern that public hearings could delay the process.

He said he is to discuss inquiry options when he meets Vicky Phelan today.

Meanwhile, the High Court heard that Ms Morrissey – who is suing the HSE and two labs over the alleged misreading of her cervical smears – is to undergo radical radiotherapy.

A medical report presented to the court says “offers hope” to the Limerick mother.

However, her counsel said there will be no indications of the success of it until three months time.

At the start of legal action the laboratories – Quest Diagnostics Ireland Ltd and Medlab Pathology Ltd – had sought to adjourn the case until autumn.

The labs – which deny all claims – contended medics would have a better idea then of Ms Morrissey’s life prognosis if she had the radical radiotherapy.

They renewed their application for an adjournment, asking for the case to be put back to November.

Mr Justice Kevin Justice Cross, said it was a “fraught case”, and pointed out the benefit of mediation.

He said any difficulty in relation to life expectancy in the case will be for him to decide and he will meet it.

But he thought it would probably be unfair to put the case back to November.

He set the resumption of the hearing for September 18 next.

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