The solicitor for cancer victim Ruth Morrissey has criticised the head of the HSE over comments he made about a letter of apology on the day of her funeral.
Hours before Ms Morrissey was laid to rest on Wednesday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said he had written to her husband Paul, through their solicitor, to "express my deepest sympathies and apologies for what has happened to Ruth".
Mr Reid made the comments at a Covid-19 press briefing.
But the Irish Independent has learned the letter was only posted that morning and solicitor Cian O'Carroll, who represented the couple in their legal action against the HSE and two screening laboratories, said yesterday he had yet to receive it.
Mr O'Carroll was also critical of Mr Reid for discussing the letter on the day of the funeral. "It beggars belief that he would take the occasion of Ruth's funeral to raise this matter at a well-attended press conference," the solicitor said.
"He should have communicated whatever his desired expressions of sympathy or apology to Mr Morrissey privately and then, if he saw fit but ideally with the permission of Mr Morrissey, communicated what he had done to the public."
A HSE spokesman said the letter was sent on the morning of the funeral, prior to the press conference. The spokesman declined to comment on the criticisms levelled at Mr Reid, but the row has once again put the spotlight on the State's response to fallout from the CervicalCheck scandal.
Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul were awarded €2.1m by the High Court last year over the misreading of her cervical smears.
After 39-year-old Ms Morrissey passed away at Milford Hospice in Co Limerick on Sunday, her husband issued a statement saying that "despite using Ruth as a test case through the final years and months of her life, neither the HSE nor the State has ever apologised to her, and now it is too late".
Ms Morrissey and her husband endured a lengthy High Court battle to secure damages, only to see aspects of the case appealed to the Supreme Court by the HSE and the laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Medlab.
The High Court heard Ms Morrissey was not told until 2018 that a review in 2014 showed smears taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme in 2009 and 2012 had been incorrectly reported. Her cancer returned in 2018.
Mr Justice Kevin Cross found in favour of the Morrisseys against all three defendants but also found the HSE, apart from a sum of €10,000, was entitled to an indemnity against the laboratories.
A sum of €757,508 was awarded to Ms Morrissey and €1.4m to her husband.
The Supreme Court found the High Court was correct in applying a standard for screening where screeners should have no doubt a sample is adequate and does not contain any suspicious material before stating it is clear.
It also upheld most of the damages awarded, but allowed an appeal by Medlab in respect of €575,000 of the award to Mr Morrissey. This related to services which would have been provided to the family by Ms Morrissey were it not for her shortened life expectancy.
Despite this decision, the Morrisseys received the full sum of €2.1m after the Government guaranteed this and their legal costs, irrespective of what happened in the Supreme Court.
The litigation only concluded yesterday when the Supreme Court ruled on the small number of outstanding issues.
Giving that ruling, Chief Justice Frank Clarke expressed deep sympathy to Ms Morrissey's family and friends.
The court also decided to reduce the award against the HSE and Quest Diagnostics by €575,000. The decision does not affect the Morrissey family, but could potentially alter how the burden of the payment of the damages will fall on each of the defendants.
The Morrissey case highlighted the need for an alternative mechanism to deal with CervicalCheck claims.
A tribunal, to have got underway earlier this year to spare women from having to take cases, stalled and it is unclear when it will begin. Two of the three judges who were to sit on it are no longer available.
There are currently over 200 active CervicalCheck claims.