Woman with incurable cancer sues HSE over smear test ‘failure’

Court told Vicky Phelan (43) should have ‘40 years to look forward to’ but only has months to live

Vicky and Jim Phelan, from Annacotty, Co Limerick, are pictured leaving the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Vicky and Jim Phelan, from Annacotty, Co Limerick, are pictured leaving the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins Courts.


A woman with terminal cervical cancer has sued in the High Court after a smear test carried out seven years ago, which showed no abnormalities, was found to be incorrect following a review.

Jeremy Maher SC, for Vicky Phelan, said that had his client’s cervical cancer been detected in 2011, the mother-of-two could have had a simple procedure and there was a 90 per cent chance she could have been cured.

He said their case was that Ms Phelan would not have developed invasive cancer and would have survived into her 80s, but instead “she will die by the end of the year”.

Ms Phelan (43) was last January given between six and 12 months to live, he said.

“She should have another 40 years to look forward to but she has a couple of months.”

In evidence, Ms Phelan said she is “very angry” that she only learned last year of a 2014 review relating to her 2011 smear test. Her first reaction when she heard that information had been available for three years, was that it was “a cover up”.

“If I was told sooner, I would not be in the position of a terminal cancer diagnosis. I am very angry about it,” she said.

The case includes a claim for aggravated and exemplary damages over alleged failure to tell Ms Phelan over a period of three years about the review.

Ms Phelan, a university educational manager, of Carrigeren, Annacotty, Co Limerick, and her husband, Jim Phelan, have sued the HSE and Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, US, over the smear test taken as part of the national cervical screening programme, Cervical Check.

The claims are denied.

No abnormality

The smear test of May 24th 2011 detected no abnormality and a letter of June 2011 advised Ms Phelan of this fact, it is claimed. She had a further smear test in June 2014 which showed a high grade lesion and she was referred to a consultant.

In July 2014, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent radical chemoradiotherapy.

It is claimed that following her cancer diagnosis, a review was carried out of previous smear tests of women who had a cancer diagnosis and the May 2011 sample from Ms Phelan showed the original report was incorrect and the smear test had in fact shown suspected cancerous cells.

Ms Phelan was last November advised of the review and diagnosed with incurable Stage 4 cancer.

It is alleged that a failure to diagnose, or a misinterpretation of the 2011 smear test sample, caused a situation whereby Ms Phelan’s cancer was allowed to develop and spread unidentified, unmonitored and untreated until she was diagnosed in July 2014.

It is claimed she was deprived of the opportunity of timely and effective investigation and management of her condition and of treatment at a time when her disease was allegedly amenable to curative treatment.

The case continues on Friday.