Monday 23 July 2018

Vicky Phelan's solicitor puts pressure on Health Minister to show memo on cervical cancer scandal

  • Health Minister is going to come under intense pressure this afternoon to publish a memo he received two weeks ago on the cervical cancer scandal
  • The solicitor of Vicky Phelan asks Minister Harris to show him the memo he received on his client
  • Ministers will today discuss setting up a compensation scheme for women caught up in the cancer scandal that could cost in the region of €500m
Simon Harris
Simon Harris

Kevin Doyle and Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris is going to come under intense pressure this afternoon to publish a memo he received two weeks ago on the cervical cancer scandal.

The solicitor of Vicky Phelan made a dramatic intervention in the political row over the cervical screening scandal today when he asked Minister Harris to show him the memo he received on his client three days before her gruelling High Court action.

Mr Harris was told by his officials about the High Court case brought by Limerick mother of two Vicky Phelan on April 16.

On April 19 Ms Phelan, who has terminal cervical cancer after getting a wrong smear test reading in 2011, had to endure the ordeal of going public before the High Court in her case against Cervicalcheck and the Texas laboratory which misread her test.

Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts
Vicky Phelan from Annacotty, Co. Limerick, pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts Picture: Collins Courts

It emerged on April 19 that an internal report on Ms Phelan’s test mis-diagnosis was carried out in 2014 but she was not informed about it until late last year.

Mr Harris who is facing a grilling in the Dail today is understood to be claiming he cannot publish the memo as it contains personal information about Ms Phelan.

However, Ms Phelan’s solicitor Cian O’Carroll told Independent.ie this morning: ”The easiest thing for the Minister is to copy the memo to Vicky and me to see if it is ok to publish it.”

Department of Health sources who have seen the memo told Independent.ie that the note suggested Mc Phelan's case against the HSE was being dropped and the one against a US laboratory was "likely" to be settled.

The memo added that an audit of CervicalCheck had taken place and the "outcome of all current and historical cases were communicated to treating clinicians".

The HSE admitted yesterday that 162 women out of the 208 included in the review were not told that they were part of an audit or that their cancer could have been diagnosed earlier.

Ministers will today discuss setting up a compensation scheme for women caught up in the cancer scandal that could cost in the region of €500m.

Mr Harris has already signed off on a Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) investigation into how 162 women were not told about a review of their cervical cancer test.

But he will need full Cabinet approval and monetary backing from the Department of Finance to set up a redress scheme.

There are currently "three to four" legal cases, similar to that undertaken by Vicky Phelan, which are in their early stages.

They are being handled by the State Claims Agency, which was accused by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday of taking an "adversarial route" against Ms Phelan.

The mother-of-two was forced to give intimate evidence of her life with cervical cancer in the High Court before settling her case against a US laboratory over a 2011 smear test for €2.5m.

Government sources have indicated they want to avoid a flurry of cases coming before the courts in the wake of the controversy.

However, if taxpayers foot the initial bill for a redress scheme it is unclear how much of this money could be recouped from the laboratories involved in delivering results with false negatives.

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe is expected to be quizzed on this issue at a Cabinet meeting today.

Mr Martin said "whether they like it or not" ministers have used their public comments to indicate "a pathway towards a redress board".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is "very angry" about the scandal, adding that he was "filled with sadness" when he heard Ms Phelan’s story.

He said it was wrong that women were not informed of the audits earlier, adding that there were "appalling communications failures".

However, he urged women to continue attending cancer screening clinics. Last night, Mr Harris announced a Hiqa investigation into the controversy, which will have the power to compel witnesses from the HSE and CervicalCheck.

Hiqa will also review other screening programmes such as BreastCheck to ensure there are no similar issues. A Patient Safety Bill will be brought to Cabinet next week, to legislate for a mandatory disclosure policy in relation to screening.

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