It hurts: Husband of cancer victim shocked at 2016 memos

Stephen Teap asks: should Leo Varadkar have known about the 2016 memos?

Stephen and Irene Teap with their two children Noah, age 3 and Oscar, age 5. Irene Teap died last year after receiving incorrect cervical cancer screening results. Picture supplied by Stephen Teap /Facebook

Stephen and Irene Teap with their two children Noah, age 3 and Oscar, age 5. Irene Teap died last year after receiving incorrect cervical cancer screening results. Picture supplied by Stephen Teap /Facebook

 

The widower of a woman not told about missed cancer warnings has welcomed the departure of Tony O’Brien as HSE director general and expressed shock at 2016 memos showing the HSE knew of the issue.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died last year after two undisclosed false tests in 2010 and 2013, said that it was correct that the memos should have led to the resignation of Mr O’Brien as director general.

Mr O’Brien’s position became increasingly tenuous on Thursday after the dramatic release to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee of three memos he had received in 2016 on the background to the issue of cervical screening audit findings which in many cases were not passed on to the women concerned. One of the memos released revealed that the HSE was concerned about a risk that communicating individual audit findings to doctors could result in patients going to the media with stories that the cervical screening process did not diagnose their cancer.

“It was shocking: the lack of concern for the patient and lack of concern over learning from mistakes. How they were trying to prioritise a response to negative feedback from patients and the media was terrible,” Mr Teap said.

One of the memos, a March 2016 briefing note to the HSE, says that, under a heading “next steps,” the plan was to “pause all letters” conveying information about revised smear test results, await legal advice and continue to prepare “reactive communications” responding to media headlines “screening did not diagnose my cancer.”

Mr Teap criticised the approach taken to telling patients as reflected in the memos.

“It doesn’t take the patient into consideration whatsoever and it hurts, it hurts that that has been going on,” he told The Irish Times, speaking by phone from his home in Carrigaline, Co Cork.

Mr Teap’s wife Irene was one of 17 women who were given inaccurate tests to have died. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died in July 2017 at the age of 35 leaving behind two young sons Oscar and Noah.

She died without knowing about the false negative smear test results. Mr Teap only learned of his wife’s inaccurate tests when he was told by the HSE last week after a court case taken by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan and her refusal to sign a confidentiality clause in the settlement of that case exposed the controversy.

Mr Teap said that he was not surprised by the details within the memos sent to the HSE showing that CervicalCheck was contemplating in 2016 not telling some women about the audit findings.

“I am not surprised by that given the way they handled the question when I asked them why didn’t you share the information with me. They changed their response in 24 hours; it was part of the drip-feed of information,” he said.

“That is why I had been calling for Tony O’Brien to be removed from this position so we can have full transparency in all correspondence to see what was going on and hopefully this will help with all inquiries.

“Tony O’Brien was obviously aware of that memo and he had read that.”

Mr Teap noted the Department of Health’s comments that the memos were not brought to the attention of the minister for health at the time the March 2016 was sent, Leo Varadkar, now Taoiseach but that the memos still raised questions for the Government.

“Varadkar was the minister for health. Should he have known is the question that has to be answered now,” he said.