Mhic Mhathúna to start legal action over missed cancer warning

‘I need the money now, not when I’m dead,’ says terminally ill woman on plans for court

Emma Mhic Mhathúna, one of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, is planning to file High Court proceedings today over the 2013 smear test that missed her cancer, her solicitor has said.

Cian O’Carroll, the Co Tipperary-based lawyer representing Ms Mhic Mhathúna, criticised the continued delay by the national screening programme in releasing medical records belonging to women with cervical cancer who were told that prediagnosis smear tests had wrongly given them the all-clear.

Delays in the release of the records, and the failure of the US laboratories that carried out the testing for CervicalCheck to release slides of the smear tests, had delayed until today the mother of five taking legal action against the HSE and Quest Diagnostics, which carried out her test for CervicalCheck.

Mr O’Carroll has said he plans to ask the High Court today for an order compelling US laboratories to hand over the slides in Ms Mhic Mhathúna’s case and two other urgent cases that he brought last week as he seeks to accelerate the cases to trial for women with terminal diagnoses, so they can be resolved quickly.

Last week he secured fast-tracked court hearings for the two affected women and a third with ovarian cancer also claiming an alleged misdiagnosis, for dates in July. Mr O’Carroll plans to ask the court next week for early trial dates for Ms Mhic Mhathúna and another woman caught up in the controversy.

Terminal cancer diagnosis

Ms Mhic Mhathúna (37) was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 but was told only last month that a 2013 smear test that incorrectly gave her the all-clear was later found to show signs of cancer.

The Co Kerry resident, whose emotional accounts of her case have made her one of the public faces of the controversy, learned earlier this month that her cancer diagnosis was terminal.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna told The Irish Times that she had to take legal proceedings in the absence of Government details of a redress scheme as she urgently needs to make plans for her five children.

“I am terminally ill, and I need the money now, to set things up for my children. I can’t afford to be waiting around,” she said. “The Government haven’t come and said they will prioritise me because I have the five kids. Nobody has contacted me from the State saying, ‘This is the plan financially.’ I need the money now, not when I’m dead.”

She said she suffers from Crohn’s disease, which means clinical trials “are not an option”, so she is under time pressure to make plans for her children. “My little boy, who is 2½, I am filling out secondary-school forms for him. I have over a decade’s worth of parenting to do in a short space of time. I need to make preparations for them for the future.”

Ms Mhic Mhathúna had spent considerable time this week with lawyers working on her case. “Can you imagine that? Dying and having to prepare for the High Court.”

“Delays and obstruction”

Mr O'Carroll, who also represented Vicky Phelan, the Limerick woman whose case exposed the controversy, said delays in CervicalCheck releasing medical records and the laboratories releasing slides have continued despite assurances at an Oireachtas committee last week that a protocol was being set up to deal with this quickly.

“There is a defensive process being undertaken which is entirely consistent with CervicalCheck’s behaviour to date,” said the Cashel-based solicitor. “They have not taken up the slides from the laboratories. They are hiding behind the laboratories on the slides, and they are delaying and obstructing us from taking legal proceedings on behalf of women who are sick and dying while assuring us that they are doing their best.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE said that it was putting a process in place “to ensure the timely release of all records and slides in a manner which would protect the integrity of the slides” and that “we will continue to treat all urgent requests for access to records with the greatest priority, in line with our agreed protocol”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent