Tuesday 22 October 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Treatment of Ruth Morrissey shows HSE has learned nothing despite its vows of patient compassion'


Ruth Morrissey. Photo: Collins Courts
Ruth Morrissey. Photo: Collins Courts
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

If ever there was proof of the inability of the health service to learn from mistakes, it is surely the treatment of Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cervical cancer.

She has been in a hospice for most of the time since her punishing High Court case, in which she successfully sued two CervicalCheck labs and the HSE after getting a wrong smear test result.

Those six weeks have also been anxious, worrying about a threatened appeal to parts of the ruling in her case and the implications it could have for her award of €2.1m.

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The fact she had to learn that the State was lodging an appeal in her case from a Sunday newspaper is striking in its insensitivity.

The State is, of course, entitled to appeal aspects of the judgment of Judge Kevin Cross and seek clarity on the meaning of his ruling - that there should be absolute confidence before passing a smear test as clear.

The Supreme Court appeal delay will undoubtedly be upsetting.

But the least she could have expected to lessen the blow was some advance notice that the State would challenge key parts of the ruling.

Correspondence from her solicitor, Cian O'Carroll, shows he wrote to Health Minister Simon Harris last week saying she was "frightened" an appeal would mean her award would be jeopardised.

The difficulty in communicating with women who received wrong test results was at the heart of the CervicalCheck scandal to start with.

Then came Gabriel Scally's scathing report about the failure of some doctors who withheld information and did not treat women with respect.

It led to pledges by the HSE to make amends, change culture and ensure the patient is at the centre of policy.

But here we go again. The buck stops in this case with the HSE, which wrote to the Attorney General looking for an appeal. It must have known it was going to go ahead.

It has been one of the first tests for its new director-general Paul Reid and his officials.

The absence of such a decent gesture is disappointing.

The HSE clearly has some way to go yet to demonstrate it can be fully trusted when it comes to the basic matters of patient compassion.

Irish Independent

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