Pressure builds on Government over ‘empty’ promise to cancer women

State bid to settle CervicalCheck trial criticised for offering cover to Varadkar, Harris

Paul and Ruth Morrissey at the Four Courts on Thursday. Ms Morrissey, who has been told by her doctors  she has less than a year to live, is the fourth women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal to go to court.  Photograph:  Collins Courts

Paul and Ruth Morrissey at the Four Courts on Thursday. Ms Morrissey, who has been told by her doctors she has less than a year to live, is the fourth women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal to go to court. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris are facing intense pressure over their promise that no woman caught up in the CervicalCheck cancer screening scandal would have to go to court.

The call to keep their two-month-old pledge came as State efforts to halt a trial taken by another terminally ill woman, Ruth Morrissey, through mediation were sharply criticised.

The Limerick woman, who has cervical and breast cancer, and her husband Paul are suing two laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Medlab Pathology, for her misreported smear tests in 2009 and 2012 and the HSE for failing to tell her about an audit revealing the incorrect tests for two years.

The 37-year-old mother of one, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and whose doctors have told her she has less than a year to live, is the fourth women affected by the scandal to go to court.

She was forced to take the witness stand for two days this week and deliver personal testimony about the pain she is suffering and the impact of her terminal illness on her seven-year-old daughter.

Seeking redress

Some 221 women have been affected by the scandal and a growing number are being forced to take High Court actions seeking redress and damages.

Mr Varadkar pledged in May that the State would take over their cases, seek settlements by mediation and pursue the labs for damages so the women would not have to go to trial.

The State Claims Agency, which defends legal actions against the HSE, said yesterday it had asked the two labs to resume mediation talks as soon as possible with Ms Morrissey’s legal team after a pretrial attempt to resolve the case through mediation failed.

The statement sparked an unusual public row between parties to the case outside the court.

The Limerick woman’s solicitor, Cian O’Carroll, said the Morrisseys felt “deep hurt” that the agency “sought to misrepresent the sham mediation that took place last week in a poorly veiled attempt to spare them the criticism that is rightly theirs for their conduct of this case.”

‘Distraught’

On that occasion, a “gravely ill” woman and her “distraught” husband were “required to wait around for almost four hours of ‘mediation’ during which not a single cent was offered,” he said.

The agency’s request was “clearly aimed at offering cover to the exposed flank of government,” he added.

He accused the agency of being “embarrassed by the obvious conflict between how Ruth and Paul have been treated this week and the remarks of Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris who gave such clear and public assurances just 10 weeks ago that no other woman would be dragged through the courts.”

Political fire

The State’s handling of the case drew political fire as Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, called on Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris to apologise for making “false and empty promises” to the women.

“Their anguish and worry is now being further compounded by being forced to go to court to secure the damages they are undoubtedly entitled to,” he said.

A spokesman for the Government said it has been “very clear that we do not want to see any woman having to go to court”, that mediation was offered in every case, and that it wanted to see “all cases dealt with through mediation so that a settlement can be sought in a sensitive way”.