Wednesday 18 July 2018

Grieving husband hits out at HSE after discovering his wife was one of the 17 who died after being given all-clear

Julie pictured with her daughter Ali
Julie pictured with her daughter Ali
Julie and Paul. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie pictured with her son Craig. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie pictured with Jasmine. Credit: Paul Dignivan

Rachel Farrell

A grieving husband has spoken about his shock and anger at discovering last week that his late wife was one of the 17 women who received incorrect smear test results.

Julie Dignivan died on April 8, 2017 after battling cancer for four years. She was 36-years-old.

A CervicalCheck audit recently revealed that up to 17 women died in connection with a smear testing error. Paul Dignivan found out this month that discrepancies in his wife's test were discovered in 2016, a year before she passed away.

Julie went for a routine smear test in 2009. The results showed no abnormalities, but Paul later found out that his wife had pre-cancerous lesions that were missed.

Julie pictured with her son Craig. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie pictured with her son Craig. Credit: Paul Dignivan

"In 2011 she gave birth to our daughter and had some bleeding during the pregnancy - at first she thought it was a miscarriage," Paul told Independent.ie

"There were small signs there at the time. She had the smear in 2013 and when she had it she knew something wasn’t right as she was bleeding heavily at this stage."

A biopsy was performed and a few days later Julie was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix.

"It was absolutely devastating," Paul said.

Results from the operation came back clear, but Julie's cancer returned in February 2014 and she began treatment to shrink a tumour. The couple married in Spain that summer.

Julie battled chemotherapy and radiotherapy on and off for the next three years, as the cancer would disappear and come back. She would travel up to Dublin from her home in Fermoy, Co Cork to the Beacon Hospital for treatment and pain management.

In September 2016, things took a turn for the worse. Julie was admitted to Marymount Hospice in Cork. She returned home for Christmas to spend quality time with her family but continued to deteriorate and returned to the hospice in March 2017. She died a month later.

"It was four years of it, four years of constantly worrying, scan results and chemotherapy before she passed away," said Paul.

Julie and Paul. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie and Paul. Credit: Paul Dignivan

"Now it's like it's starting over again - it feels like she passed away from negligence. There was no offers of counselling from the HSE and there were no letters."

When the news broke this month Vicky Phelan's story, Paul noticed the similarities between her experience and his wife. 

"I went to work on Monday after her story came out and Julie's friends were texting me, asking if I'd heard about it. I wasn't sure, so I tried to book an appointment with the GP but they were booked up."

On Monday, May 1, Paul decided to call a local radio station to get information on who to contact. When the phone rang, it wasn't the radio station that called but a nurse from Cork University Hospital where Julie was first treated.

Julie pictured with her daughter Ali. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie pictured with her daughter Ali. Credit: Paul Dignivan

"I went in on Tuesday and the doctor told me that Julie had been identified as one of the 17 women. They said they found out about the test discrepancies in September 2016. 

"When I asked when the review of her smear test took place, the doctor said he couldn't answer but that he would write to CervicalCheck to find out.

"I couldn’t even ask them any more questions, it was like there was something caught in my throat. I couldn't even look at them, I was just looking at a paint spot on the wall."

Julie pictured with Jasmine. Credit: Paul Dignivan
Julie pictured with Jasmine. Credit: Paul Dignivan

Paul said he originally tried to avoid the stories on the news but wanted people to know Julie's story after encouragement from their friends and family.

"She would have wanted people to hear this. We all said that knowing Julie, if she had of heard this she would have wanted her story out there.

"In a hospital you're just a number on a file, but now people can see the faces behind all these women's stories like Julie's."

Julie left behind a son Craig (19) from a previous relationship, daughter Ali (7) with Paul and Paul's daughter Jasmine (17).

Read more: 'My dad is so angry' - Family discover mother is one of the 17 affected by cervical cancer scandal... six years after her death

On Saturday, Grace Rattigan told Independent.ie that her mother Catherine Reck was also one of the 17 women caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal. She died in April 2012 after her smear test was misread.

The stories of women affected have continued to emerge over the past few weeks after Vicky Phelan's case first exposed the scandal when she took the HSE to the High Court.

Kerry mum-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathuna also made headlines when it was revealed that her 2013 smear test results were incorrect. She was diagnosed with cancer three years later.

A HSE spokeswoman said they cannot comment on individual cases. 

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