BreastCheck unit in Cork received three solicitors’ letters in recent weeks

Lawyers criticise comments by breast screening chief over spiralling legal costs

The BreastCheck unit in Cork has received three solicitors’ letters in recent weeks, the HSE has said.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said on Friday that the three letters received by the Cork facility sought access to patient information.

The HSE said neither the BreastCheck facility at the Mater hospital in Dublin nor in Galway had received any legal correspondence.

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that the national clinical director of BreastCheck, Prof Ann O'Doherty, had said her unit at St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin had received a surge of solicitors' letters following the controversy over cervical cancer screening.

She said in her 30-year career in breast cancer screening she would have dealt with one case or less per year involving solicitors, but her unit had received 15 solicitors’ letters in the last fortnight.

Prof O’Doherty expressed fears that spiralling legal costs could lead to the breast cancer screening programme being closed down.

Programme closing

Meanwhile, medical negligence lawyers dismissed BreastCheck’s concerns that a sharp increase in legal correspondence could result in spiralling legal costs and the cancer screening programme closing.

Orla Kelly, a solicitor with the law firm Cantillons in Cork, described the comments by Prof O'Doherty as "scaremongering and ill-informed".

Ms Kelly described as “fantasy” and “nothing more than hyperbole” the claim that court actions could result in €100 million in legal costs and the closure of the programme.

She said it was designed to scare the public into thinking cancer screening was going to end “because of greedy solicitors” and “designed to deflect from increased and valid public concern over the quality of cancer care and cancer screening in Ireland”.

Medical negligence

Patients requesting medical records from the programme “does not amount to a successful claim”, said Ms Kelly, who is representing a number of women affected in the CervicalCheck controversy.

Sligo solicitor Damien Tansey also said there was a "very big attrition rate" in medical negligence cases and that two out of every 10 consultations with would-be clients result in legal actions being taken.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent