Terminally ill woman waited weeks for CervicalCheck to call back

HSE phones woman to apologise while she is getting post-cancer-treatment wig

A coloured scanning electron micrograph of a cell of a cervical carcinoma. File photograph: Getty Images

A coloured scanning electron micrograph of a cell of a cervical carcinoma. File photograph: Getty Images


The terminally ill woman who on Friday settled her legal action over incorrect smear tests only received a call back from the Health Service Executive’s CervicalCheck helpline on Thursday, waiting several weeks for a follow-up call.

The 61-year-old woman in the “K” case, who cannot be identified by court order, took the call from a consultant gynaecologist while being fitted for a wig, having lost her hair as a result of her cancer treatment.

She had contacted the helpline twice after being called to attend a medical appointment last month where she was told she was one of 209 women whose past smear tests were incorrect.

The woman’s sister, who is not among this group affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, had received a call back from the helpline after being concerned about her own health and urged the HSE to contact her sister urgently.

Mrs K decided to undergo a new smear test after the CervicalCheck scandal broke in late April and discovered that her cervical cancer, first diagnosed in 2016, had returned and her condition was terminal.

The HSE apologised last night if Thursday’s call to Mrs K upset her.

“Clearly, there was no intention to discuss the woman’s care in an uncomfortable environment for her,” said a spokeswoman.

Callers to the helpline who “had a complex clinical need” were referred back to hospitals “so that the clinical discussion could be had with the full knowledge of the woman’s medical history”, she said.

Delays experienced

“We accept that there were some difficulties given the scale of what had to be established in a short time and apologise for anyone who has experienced a delay,” the spokeswoman said, adding the HSE has dealt with more than 25,000 calls since the crisis began.

Mrs K and her husband sued the HSE and the US laboratory Quest Diagnostics in the High Court over smear tests carried out in 2009 and 2012 which came back showing no abnormality had been detected.

She was told last month a CervicalCheck audit of the tests revealed the presence of pre-cancerous cells and that the tests were originally reported incorrectly.

This is the first High Court case to be resolved since Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled her legal action for €2.5 million over a 2011 false negative test.

It subsequently emerged that scores more women were not told about audits showing incorrect tests.

Mrs K’s case is the first to be settled by the New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, one of the US laboratories contracted to carry out more than 90 per cent of the smear tests for CervicalCheck.

No mediation

Although the HSE was also sued by Mrs K, Quest is understood to have indemnified the State in an action that was handled so quickly by all the parties that it did not need to go to mediation.

Tipperary solicitor Cian O’Carroll, who acted for both Mrs K and Ms Phelan, said he is acting for “several dozen” more affected women. He expects further cases to be brought over the coming 12-18 months and the possibility of imminent settlements in four other urgent cases already taken involving terminally ill women, including Kerry mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathúna.

Legal actions by the women and relatives of some of the deceased women among the group of 209 have been delayed by the failure to secure their medical records from CervicalCheck.

Some 88 women out of 204 who have made requests for their files still have not received their records, according to figures released by the National Screening Service to Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath.