Cervical cancer scandal: Husband ‘dragged back into grief’

Paul Reck filled with ‘pure anger and mistrust’ and has no confidence in health service

Paul Reck, widow of Catherine Reck (pictured), one of 17 women who were given incorrect clear cervical smear test results, but who later developed cervical cancer and died. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The husband of one of 17 women who died without being told an audit had found her clear cervical cancer smear test had been misread, said his family has been “dragged back into grief” over the screening controversy.

Catherine Reck was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2011 and died aged 48 in April 2012. Her husband Paul only learned on May 4th that she was one of 209 women who had not been told audits had found previous smear tests that gave them the all-clear were incorrect.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Paul Reck (48), from Tallaght, Dublin, said his wife had a smear test done in November 2010, which they were told showed low-grade cell abnormalities. In a meeting last Thursday at Tallaght University Hospital, "it was revealed that it was the opposite", he said.

Several months after the smear test, Ms Reck went to her local GP reporting irregular bleeding. She did not get a colposcopy in Tallaght Hospital until August 2011, and after a biopsy she was diagnosed with stage-three cervical cancer.


High abnormalities

Because Ms Reck had been diagnosed with cancer, an audit of her past smear tests was carried out, where it was discovered the 2010 test in fact showed high abnormalities, which if identified at the time would have led to earlier treatment.

In a statement released on Friday, the family said they were informed that Tallaght Hospital "were made aware of the discrepancies in Catherine's smear test result in 2016", but the doctor had been instructed by CervicalCheck to record the audit results in Ms Reck's file, and the family was not informed.

Mr Reck said learning his wife was one of the women caught up in the cervical cancer screening controversy had “dragged” the family back into the grieving process all over again.

The Reck family: Thomas (left), husband Paul, the late Catherine, Grace (right) and Shane (front), in the last family photo they have together. File photograph: Paul Reck

If the high abnormalities in Ms Reck’s smear test had been picked up, she would have received treatment “urgently”, he said. “My kids and grandchildren have missed out on so much. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Cover up

Upon learning the delayed diagnosis had been withheld from the family, Mr Reck said he was filled with “pure anger and mistrust”, and now had “no confidence” in the health service.

“Every aspect of it was wrong; morally, ethically and medically. They knew if they had of told us it would have been a scandal, it was a cover-up,” he said.

Following the meeting in Tallaght Hospital, there has been “zero” contact from the HSE or the Department of Health with his family, Mr Reck said.

“I want to know why it happened. I want to know who knew. I want to know why we weren’t told. I want people held to account,” he said. “There won’t be closure, but we want accountability,” he said.

On Friday night, Grace Rattigan, Ms Reck's daughter, released a statement from the family on her Facebook page, which said if the test had been read correctly, treatment would have begun seven months earlier.

“Every milestone we have passed without her through cloudy eyes and heavy hearts now feels like an extension of this sense of being robbed,” Ms Rattigan said. “To learn this could have potentially been avoided, it now feels like Catherine’s life and her positive impact on our lives was stolen,” she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times