You would think being told you had just two years to live was bad enough. But when Ruth Morrissey got this diagnosis in 2018, it was compounded by the revelation that her cervical cancer might have been found and treated in time, but for the negligence of the State.
Worse, that same State and the US laboratories it employed, decided she would spend the rest of what little time she had left fighting in the courts as a test case to prove what had been done to her, and to 200 other women. And they were dogged in their legal pursuit of this dying woman who had been so grievously wronged. After a 36-day trial, Ruth Morrissey won her case in May of last year. The State was found responsible for the negligence and errors of the laboratories.
But the State was not done with her. A decision was taken by the laboratories and the State Claims Agency to appeal the High Court judgement, and so it dragged on until March 9 last when the appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court. And last week we discovered that €2.16m in damages had finally been paid to the family. Then, on Sunday last, Ruth Morrissey died.
In his grief, her broken-hearted husband, Paul, hit out at the State and the HSE for failing to apologise for the "magnitude of harm" done to his wife. They had failed to properly read and diagnose her cancer in smear tests carried out in 2009 and 2012; they failed to tell her about these catastrophic errors, discovered in a 2014/2015 audit, until 2018, when she learned her cancer was terminal, even though she was first diagnosed in 2014. And there was no apology for the then-Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar's failure to follow through on his promise that none of the affected women would have to go through the court system for compensation.
Finally last Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, and the HSE head, Paul Reid, apologised to the Morrissey family. But at the same time, Leo Varadkar was still clinging to the generic apology he issued last October to the women and families affected by the scandal for the failure to notify (but not for the diagnostic failures) as if that was something that should have been sufficient for the Morrissey family. Worse, he seemed to try to distance himself from the whole affair by reminding us that the State Claims Agency is independent of government.
In today's Sunday Independent, Vicky Phelan, whose own court case first brought the scandal to public attention, writes an angry and compelling appeal to those in power to legislate for mandatory open disclosure and give patient advocates oversight of clinical audits; set up the promised tribunal to deal in a non-adversarial way with CervicalCheck cases; set up a new CervicalCheck steering committee with an independent chair, and give a commitment to build a national laboratory for cervical testing.
If there is one lesson to be learned from this whole sorry saga, it is that those charged with the administration of the State ignore the voices of the innocent victims at their peril. Compounding the mistakes of the past is not only cruel and inhumane, but will create more tragic consequences in the years to come.