Woman loses damages claim over BreastCheck screening

Liability for substantial costs of action by Siobhán Freeney to be decided at a later date

Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


A woman who sued for damages over her BreastCheck screening at a mobile unit has lost her High Court action. Liability for the substantial costs of the 14-day action by Siobhán Freeney will be decided at a later date.

Ms Justice Niamh Hyland found Ms Freeney’s cancer was a true interval cancer in that it showed normal or benign features in the screening mammogram. Therefore, the reporting of that 2015 mammogram as normal was not negligent, the judge ruled.

Having regard to Ms Freeney’s clinical presentation and the guidelines on clinical recall, the judge also found the HSE had acted appropriately in not identifying Ms Freeney for clinical recall following her screening in June 2015.

Ms Freeney, she noted, is at present cancer free. Represented by Jeremy Maher SC, instructed by solicitor Cian O’Carroll, Ms Freeney (59), Clonattin, Gorey, Co Wexford had sued the HSE alleging failure to refer her for further assessment including ultrasound examination on June 17th, 2015.

She further claimed there was failure to advise, treat and care for her in a proper skilful, diligent, and careful manner and to use reasonable care, skill and judgment when reviewing her June 17th, 2015 mammogram. She claimed failure to identify that features in her mammogram of her right breast were suspicious of cancer and she was allegedly deprived of the opportunity of timely and effective investigation and management of her condition.

All the claims were denied.

In a judgment on Friday delivered electronically, Ms Justice Hyland said Ms Freeney was undoubtedly very breast-aware going for her mammograms at two yearly intervals and checking her breasts regularly. She had a mammogram in June 2015 that was reported as clear. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015 after she identified symptoms and went to her GP and was referred for further assessment.

The judge said this was undoubtedly a very difficult time for Ms Freeney as was her subsequent treatment over the following months. She underwent chemotherapy and a mastectomy of her right breast but, happily, her treatment was successful and Ms Freeney is at present free of cancer, the judge said.

Ms Justice Hyland found, on the balance of probabilities, Ms Freeney had at the screening identified what she felt was an existing issue and not a new area of concern, referred to cysts and did not identify she felt a lump and had identified she felt something in her right breast. The judge concluded a note had correctly been made of what Ms Freeney said, rather than making a clinical recall, since Ms Freeney had not identified symptoms requiring recall under the guidelines.

Accordingly, the allegation of negligence was not made out, the judge held. She found, as a matter of fact, Ms Freeney did not alert the radiographer to a new cyst or abnormality and the radiographer correctly did not therefore consider her symptom to come within the guidelines and so did not clinically recall Ms Freeney.

The radiologists were therefore entitled to proceed on the assumption the cyst felt by Ms Freeney was not new and therefore not a basis for recall, she said.