Cancer misdiagnosis case settled

The HSE has apologised at the High Court to a woman whose breast cancer was misdiagnosed three times over a 19 month period and…

The HSE has apologised at the High Court to a woman whose breast cancer was misdiagnosed three times over a 19 month period and who had to undergo a mastectomy just days after an invasive cancer was finally discovered.

The apology was read as part of the settlement of Olive Fahey’s action over the delay in diagnosing the cancer. She had claimed damages, including aggravated damages but no other details of the settlement were disclosed.

Mrs Fahey (57), Rahinch, Littleton, Thurles, Co Tipperary had a mastectomy three days after being finally diagnosed in 2007, 19 months after being referred to Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick with a lump on her breast. She also had to undergo 30 sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Mr Justice Sean Ryan heard 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 had sued Barringtons Hospital, the HSE, a surgeon at Barrington’s 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 disputed her claim for aggravated,damages.

On three separate occasions between September 2005 and March 2007 Mrs Fahey was assured she did not have breast cancer, the court was told. A Grade 3 infiltrating invasive cancer was finally disovered in 2007, resulting in a review of breast cancer services at the Limerick Hospital.

In court today, after several hours of talks, the settlement was announced by Patrick Hanratty SC and the case was struck out.

On behalf of the defendants, Mr Hanratty said he wanted to acknowledge the very difficult time Mrs Fahey has been through due to the delay in the diagnosis of her cancer and said the defendants regretted what had happened.

The HSE specifically wanted to apologise to Mrs Fahey and wished to acknowedge the significant contribution she has made to breast cancer services in Ireland, he said. The HSE and ither defendants wished her the very best in the future, he added.

Mr Justice Ryan said he hoped the apology meant something to Mrs Fahey and added he appreciated everything she had been through. The judge said it was a very satisfactory situation to have reached a settlement and he commended all who worked to acheive it.

Mrs Fahey’s case led to two investigations - an inquiry ordered by then minister for health Mary Harney into the breast cancer services at Barringtons Hospital and an investigation into the care of Mrs Fahey whose tissue samples had been sent to the pathology department at University College Hospital, Galway.

The report into Barringtons concluded there was a significant and avoidable delay in diagnosing her while the Galway report found there were clear signs of malignancy in the samples sent for pathology there which had come back as benign.

The High Court heard the failure to diagnose Mrs Fahey in Septmeber 2005 had had catastrophic consequences in that she had to have a mastectomy, 30 sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and also has a debilitating and discomforting swelling of her left aram.

Mrs Fahey was referred to Mr O’Byrne at Barringtons Hospital in September 2005. He removed two lumps and sent them for testing 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, following a mammogram, Mr Stafford reported the situation was unchanged. In spring 2007, she went back to Barringtons when Mr Stafford decided after an ultra sound scan to send her back to Mr O’Byrne.

Mr O'Byrne carried out a fine needle procedure and sent a sample to the pathology department in Galway which reported no malignancy.

Mr O’Byrne then arranged to have the biopsy sent to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork for examination which reported a Grade 3 invasive carcinoma (cancer).

Outside court yesterday, Mrs Fahey and her husband Michael said they were happy and relieved with the settlement. Her solicitor Cian O’Carroll said, as a consequence of the misdiagnosis, huge advances had been made in symptomatic breast care in Ireland.

This was achieved as a consequence of Mrs Fahey’s injury and sacrifice, he said.

Mr O’Carroll said the couple’s ordeal was compounded by the various defendants contesting the case over five years and brought the Faheys to the point where they had to surrender their privacy and Mrs Fahey’s anonymity and go to court.

The Faheys were very happy with the settlement but it was an awful shame it did not happen sooner, he added.