Wednesday 24 July 2019

Revealed: Memo to Harris on cancer test scandal advised he acknowledge Vicky Phelan's 'severe distress' once case settled

  • Department of Health has published a redacted version of the memo
  • Harris was told of bid to stop revelations being made public
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Kevin Doyle and Eilish O'Regan

A BRIEFING note prepared for the health minister ahead of Vicky Phelan’s case coming before the High Court suggested he acknowledge her "severe distress" once the court action was settled.

The Department of Health has this afternoon published a redacted version of the memo compiled by officials for Simon Harris on April 16.

It shows that the health minister was told of the bid to stop the damning revelations about misdiagnoses of tests at Cervicalcheck being made public - days before it became widely-known.

The memo on April 16 concerning the High Court case to be brought by Ms Phelan, who has terminal cervical cancer, revealed an attempt was made to get her to sign a confidentiality agreement on April 9 at a mediation hearing.

"Mediation discussions between the patient and the laboratory were held on Monday 9th April. The State Claims Agency informed the Department (of Health) that no agreement was reached; the laboratory’s insurance company required complete confidentiality as a condition of any settlement and this was not acceptable to the plaintiff," it reads.

Ms Phelan was forced to endure a long court hearing on April 19 when it was first revealed that a 2014 audit of her case was carried out but she was not told about it for three years.

ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins
ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins

In relation to Ms Phelan’s case, the note also states:  “The National Screening Service and Jerome Coffey, Head of the National Cancer Control Programme, have advised the Department in writing that they do not consider this to be a patient safety incident but rather a reflection of the known limitations of the current screening test.”

As revealed by, the note also suggests that cancer sufferers affected by a CervicalCheck audit were being informed.

It outlines the review process that was underway, explaining that a clinical cancer audit examines the records of every woman diagnosed with cervical cancer who has been screened, or received treatment through CervicalCheck, in an effort to learn how cancers are diagnosed and develop.

In 2015 a decision was taken by the HSE, in line with international best practise, to provide information on outcomes of clinical cancer audits to treating clinicians for onward communication to patients as appropriate.

The note then states: “The outcomes of all current and historical clinical cancer audits were subsequently communicated to treating clinicians in 2016 (including this case).

“More recently, women are informed of this audit process and they have the option to request information on the outcomes of these reviews, which are sent to the treating doctor for discussion with the patient.”

Mr Harris was also briefed that the State Claims Agency was of the view that that solicitors for the US-based MedLab/Clinical Pathology Laboratories Ltd “will endeavour to settle the case on the best possible terms”.

“In its view the case is likely to be settled shortly before going to court. The SCA is of the view that publicity around the case and/or settlement is likely.”

In the event that the case came into the public domain, it was suggested that the minister should say: "I acknowledge the severe distress that this issue has caused to the patient involved, and to her family."

Read the memo in full:



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