Cancer was missed three times, court told


A WOMAN who was assured three times that she did not have breast cancer, and whose invasive cancer was only diagnosed 19 months after being first referred to hospital, has brought a High Court action seeking damages over the delay in her diagnosis.

Olive Fahey (57), Rahinch, Littleton, Thurles, Co Tipperary, had a mastectomy three days after being finally diagnosed in 2007, 19 months after being referred to Barringtons Hospital in Limerick with a lump on her breast, her counsel, Aidan Doyle SC, said. She also had to undergo 30 sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Mr Justice Sean Ryan also heard that tissue samples from Mrs Fahey sent for testing by Barringtons to the pathology department in University College Hospital, Galway, had been returned as benign but a later report found clear signs of malignancy.

Mrs Fahey has sued Barringtons Hospital; the HSE; a surgeon at Barringtons Hospital, Paul O’Byrne; and a consultant radiologist there, Alex Stafford.

The defendants have admitted liability in relation to the injuries caused to Mrs Fahey but dispute her claim for aggravated damages.

In evidence yesterday, she said the then minister for health, Mary Harney, had met her in Leinster House in 2008 and had listened sympathetically to her. “My impression was she found it unbelievable to have not one but so many misdiagnoses.”

After that 2008 meeting and a report ordered by the minister, which concluded that there was a significant and avoidable delay in Mrs Fahey’s diagnosis, she thought her case would be dealt with “quickly and kindly” and did not expect to have to come to court.

Mr Doyle said that as a result of Mrs Fahey’s misdiagnosis there was a degree of alarm in Barringtons Hospital and the minister had directed an inquiry into the services at the hospital for those with symptoms of breast disease.

An investigation was also conducted relating to the care of Mrs Fahey, whose tissue samples had been sent to the pathology department at University College Hospital, Galway, he said.

Counsel said the report on Barringtons concluded there was a significant and avoidable delay in diagnosing Mrs Fahey, while the report on Galway had found clear signs of malignancy in the samples sent for pathology there which came back as benign.

Mr Doyle said the case was about the defendants’ failure to diagnose his client’s breast cancer on three occasions between 2005 and March 2007.

She went to her doctor in 2005 because she thought there was something wrong with her left breast and was referred to Barringtons, he said.

The failure to diagnose Mrs Fahey in September 2005 had catastrophic consequences as she had to have a full mastectomy followed by 30 sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She also had a debilitating and discomforting swelling of her left arm. While in remission for some time, she has been unable to work since her diagnosis, he added.

Counsel said Mrs Fahey was referred to Mr O’Byrne at Barringtons in September 2005, who removed two lumps and sent them to the pathology department at University College Hospital, Galway. The results stated the lumps were benign.

In 2006, Mrs Fahey definitely felt something was wrong but, after a mammogram, Mr Stafford reported the situation was unchanged, counsel said. Mrs Fahey was extremely pleased if puzzled but went back to Barringtons in spring 2007.

Counsel said Mr Stafford decided after an ultrasound scan to send Mrs Fahey back to Mr O’Byrne, who carried out a fine-needle procedure and sent a sample to the pathology department in Galway, where it was concluded there was no malignancy.

“For the third time in 18 months she was told she was okay,” counsel said.

Mr O’Byrne was surprised and arranged to have the biopsy sent to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork for examination, which reported it was an invasive carcinoma.

Three days later Mrs Fahey had a mastectomy.

The hearing continues.