Nine new cases against cervical cancer screening service

Claims agency says number of legal actions is now 28, with two more potential challenges

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet.  File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Nine new legal cases have been initiated against the National Screening Service by women claiming their cervical cancer was misdiagnosed.

The State Claims Agency has confirmed the number of legal claims has increased to 28, with a further two potential challenges and one closed case.

The development comes as the Cabinet meets this morning to sign off on legislation to implement mandatory open disclosure.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring the Heads of the Patient Safety Bill to Cabinet today, which will oblige medical professionals to disclose “serious reportable safety incidents” to those who have been harmed by them and to the Health Information and Quality Authority.

The figures on new cervical cancer cases sent to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee relate to the period up to June 18th and do not reflect the case of Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who settled her case for €7.5 million last week.

Director of the agency Ciarán Breen has warned that the figures are evolving as new claims are being received every day and cases are being settled.

Mediation

The objective of the agency is to enter into mediation with all claimants, Mr Breen said, adding that four terminally-ill women have entered such a process.

Under the Minister for Health’s Bill, examples of the serious patient-safety incidents that must be reported will be set down in ministerial regulations. The list is expected to include wrong-site surgery, patient death or serious disability associated with a medication or diagnostic error, serious errors that emerge in screening programmes and maternal deaths.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said Mr Harris “strongly believes that creating a culture of mandatory open disclosure and learning from things that go wrong is the bedrock of making services safer”.

“The general scheme of this Bill also provides for the mandatory external notification of those same events to the appropriate body.

“The Bill sets out the requirement for Hiqa and the Mental Health Commission to develop standards on notification of patient-safety incidents.”

The spokeswoman confirmed the Minister had signed into effect new regulations that would provide for legal, voluntary open disclosure of patient-safety issues.

Under pressure

The regulations follow from the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act which was passed by the Oireachtas and signed into law by the President last November.

The Government has been under pressure to introduce mandatory open disclosure after it emerged an audit of the cases of 209 women diagnosed with cervical cancer concluded they should have received earlier medical intervention.

However, the results of the review were not given to the women involved and there is now an inquiry into the non-disclosure of information to patients.

The controversy came to light after Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled a High Court action when it emerged her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed.

Missed test

The missed smear test was only discovered in 2014 after her diagnosis but she was not told until 2017.

The Public Accounts Committee has also received correspondence from Dr Gráinne Flannelly, former director of CervicalCheck.

Dr Flannelly resigned her position after the controversy emerged and the Minister for Health did not declare confidence in her.

The letter from Dr Flannelly confirms she is willing to appear before the committee and is due to meet the chair of the scoping inquiry, Dr Gabriel Scally, next week.