Cancer misdiagnosis case leads to call for 'more human decency'
THE SOLICITOR for a woman whose lengthy cancer misdiagnosis saga led to major changes in breast cancer services in Ireland has called for a “little bit more human decency” in such cases following the settlement of her damages claim in the High Court yesterday.
Cian O’Carroll said the ordeal for Olive Fahey and her husband was compounded by defendants contesting the case over five years and bringing the Faheys to the point where they had to surrender their privacy and Mrs Fahey’s anonymity and go to court.
The case opened in the High Court in Dublin earlier this week and was settled for an undisclosed amount after several hours of talks yesterday.
Last night, the head of the State Claims Agency said he “sincerely regrets” the delays in compensating Mrs Fahey from Thurles, Co Tipperary. Ciarán Breen said if the case had involved only the agency, settlement negotiations would have been entered into much earlier.
Mrs Fahey had a mastectomy three days after being finally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. The diagnosis came 19 months after she was referred to Barringtons Hospital in Limerick with a lump on her breast. Tests sent by the hospital to the laboratory at the University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) were repeatedly returned negative when they were in fact positive.
The discovery of the 19-month delay in her care, during which she was assured three times that she did not have cancer, set in train a series of investigations and reforms that have led to an improved breast cancer service in Ireland.
It triggered a Health Information and Quality Authority investigation into the pathology department at UCHG and led to an investigation into the breast cancer services at Barringtons Hospital. It also led to the centralisation of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in eight specialist units across the State.
Speaking to The Irish Times last night, Mr O’Carroll said while there had been an apology in court yesterday, if it had meant anything “they wouldn’t have dragged Mrs Fahey through what they dragged her through”. He added: “A little bit more human decency and sincerity and a bit less law is what’s needed in these situations.”
He said being misdiagnosed was terrible, but it was an act of negligence and wasn’t deliberate. “But the decision to defend the case in the way it was defended was a deliberate act and for that reason Olive found that more hurtful, and that is simply the case . . . she couldn’t believe she was let down again.”
When the misdiagnosis became public in 2007, the then minister for health Mary Harney personally apologised to Mrs Fahey. The HSE also made a public apology. Mrs Fahey took legal action against the HSE, Barringtons Hospital and two doctors involved in her case.
Mr Breen said the State Claims Agency, on behalf of the HSE, had admitted liability with its defence at an early stage. It had made great efforts to come to an agreement over liability with the other parties representing the private hospital and the doctors involved, including the Medical Defence Union, but found it impossible to do so. “I deeply regret that on behalf of the agency,” he said.