‘Nobody looked after me’ - woman sues over alleged misreporting of smear tests

Mother-of-four (46) says she is doing her best to make memories as she will not see children grow up

A terminally ill mother-of-four who has sued over the alleged incorrect reporting of three smear tests broke down on Monday as she told the High Court she will not get to see her children grow up. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

A terminally ill mother-of-four who has sued over the alleged incorrect reporting of three smear tests broke down on Monday as she told the High Court she will not get to see her children grow up. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

A terminally ill mother-of-four who has sued over the alleged incorrect reporting of three smear tests broke down on Monday as she told the High Court she will not get to see her children grow up.

The woman said she still believes, however, that there should be a national screening programme such as CervicalCheck to look after her daughters.

She said the system had “failed me” but she wanted other women to have faith in a screening system.

The 46-year-old said she had trusted the doctors to look after her.

“Nobody looked after me. I don’t get to see my children grow up,” she told Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon as she gave her evidence via video link.

“Everything is about making memories, I don’t know how much time I have left,” said the woman, who has terminal cervical cancer and cannot be named by order of the court.

The Covid-19 lockdown has given her more time at home with her children, she said.

“Even if we are sitting on the sofa looking at a movie, we are making memories.”

Referring to an external review of her cervical smear slides, which concluded there had been missed opportunities in her case to diagnose and treat pre-cancer, the woman said she was sad, angry and dumbfounded.

‘Such shock’

When she was told of the review’s conclusion, she said she was in “such shock I stopped hearing things after that”.

The woman’s case concerns three smears taken in 2011, 2012 and 2014. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015, which recurred last year.

The woman, her husband and their children have all sued US laboratory Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc (CPL) which is based in Austin, Texas; and Medlab Pathology Ltd with offices in Sandyford, Dublin; and the Health Service Executive.

It is claimed that the three smears were incorrectly reported and cytological cell changes were allegedly allowed develop and spread unidentified, unmonitored and untreated until the woman was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

There was, it is further claimed, a failure to diagnose pre-cancerous or cancerous cells on a timely basis.

It is also claimed that the woman’s constitutional rights were breached by alleged inexcusable delay in conveying the results of the screening audit to her.

The laboratories deny all the claims.

The HSE has accepted the outcome of the review of the woman’s slides should have been made known to her as CervicalCheck was notified. A reassurance given by a specialist in 2018 regarding no alteration to her clinical outcome was given in good faith but the further review concluded the reassurance was not accurate, the HSE also says.

Spread

In evidence, the woman said she was told last February that her cancer had returned and spread to other parts of her body.

“It was everywhere. That was it,” she said.

She said she was in her second bout of chemotherapy last year when she got a letter to say her smear test from a few months previously was clear.

“I was on my second round of chemotherapy. The cancer had spread everywhere. It does not give much confidence,” she said.

Referring to the 2016 internal review by CervicalCheck, which upgraded her smear slides from the initial reporting of no abnormality detected, she said she could not understand why she was called back in 2018 to a specialist’s office

She said she had put the specialist on a “pedestal” and he was “God” to her because he had treated her 2015 cancer. The specialist told her the results of the review but reassured her it made no difference to her clinical outcome, she said.

“I trusted him, I did not question what he told me.”

When after the external review she found out the reassurance was incorrect, she said she got angry and upset. “ I think of my children and everything we are going through,” she said.

The case continues.