St James’s apologises to businessman over reading of late wife’s scan

Settlement proceedings brought following death of mother-of-two Lyndsey Comer (36)

A Dublin hospital has apologised before the High Court to the family of well-known businessman over mistakes it made after it carried out ultrasound scans on his late wife.

The apology was tendered on behalf of St James's Hospital to Barry Comer as part of the settlement of proceedings brought following the death of his wife Lyndsey Comer, a 36-year-old mother of two young children, from cancer in early August 2017.

As part of the settlement the court heard that the hospital is to also take steps to ensure that what happened to Lyndsey does not happen again.

Her husband claimed that the hospital failed to properly diagnose the results of two ultrasound scans of a lump on his wife's lower left side, that took place St James's Hospital Private Clinic in October 2015 and January 2016.

She was told that the lump was likely caused by bleeding into a muscle and was advised by staff at the clinic to get bed rest, when in fact she had terminal cancer.

On Thursday, as part of the settlement of Mr Comer and his family's claim against the hospital, an apology was read to the court on behalf of St James's chief executive Lorcan Birthistle by his counsel Derry O'Donovan SC.

In his apology, the chief executive stated that on behalf of the management and staff of St James’s he wished to extend his “deepest regret” to Mr Comer and his family over Lyndsey’s death.

The chief executive added that the distress Lyndsey’s death had caused them had not been underestimated by him.

He also apologised for “the error in interpreting” Lyndsey’s ultrasound scans.

“I want to assure you that steps are being taken to reduce the risk of a similar mistake occurring in the future” he said.

Oisin Quinn SC, with Louise Fogarty, instructed by solicitor Andrew Turner for Mr Comer, said that also included in the settlement is a payment of €25,000 to the Comer family and the defendant would also pay his client's legal costs.

‘Height of respect’

The settlement, which came on the third day of the hearing, was welcomed by Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds.

The judge said the case was “sad,” “difficult” and as far as Mr Comer was concerned “not about the money”.

Outside of court, Mr Comer, the managing director of the Comer Group Ireland, and a son of one of the group's founders, Luke Comer, said he was delighted the case had been resolved.

He said that the sole purpose of the action was to “make sure that this never happened to anyone else”.

He said he has “nothing but the height of respect for doctors, nurses, and consultants, especially for what they did during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

However, he believed that his wife’s cancer should have been detected following the first ultrasound scan at St James’s.

Mr Comer, who is an accomplished Gaelic footballer, said that it had been Lyndsey’s wish before she died that he “follow this up”.

Following the hospital’s promise to carry out a review to help prevent what had happened from happening again he said that his promise to fulfil her request had now been carried out.

He said that people “know their own bodies” and when they say something is amiss, they should not listen to nor accept anyone else’s opinion.

“Always get a scan if you think you need one,” he added.

Pain persisted

In his action, he alleged that Lyndsey should have been diagnosed as having cancer following the scans performed on her at the clinic in October 2015 and January 2016.

Following the ultrasounds of her abdomen, conducted by different radiologists, she was diagnosed as having a large bilateral rectus sheath haematoma, which he was allegedly told may have been caused by low-level bleeding into a muscle.

However, her pain persisted, and she was referred to the Hermitage Clinic in February 2016.

After undergoing various procedures including a CT scan, Lyndsey was diagnosed in early March 2016 as having cancer, which had spread from her colon.

Mr Comer, from Dunboyne, Co Meath, claimed that had his wife been properly diagnosed in October 2015 her life would have been lengthened by between six to 12 months.

He also claimed that her quality of life during that period would have been better, as the tumour would have been much smaller and easier to manage, had she been diagnosed a few months earlier than she was.

The action was against Mr Birthistle in his capacity as chief executive and nominee of St James’s Hospital and its staff for damages for the alleged wrongful death due to negligence of his wife.

In its defence, the defendant accepted that the scans were misinterpreted and she should have been referred for CT scans.

However, it denied the claims and had argued that her death was not caused by the delay in her diagnosis, or that an earlier identification of her cancer would have made a difference to her treatment or survival.

It also claimed that her cancer had a genetic mutation which made it more resistant to standard chemotherapy and she would have sadly died when she died.