Non-court grievance resolution urged for CervicalCheck cases

Patients such as late Ruth Morrissey need way to address screening errors, says Scally

Dr Gabriel Scally: court-focused process “doesn’t lead to what patients and families really want, which is to know the truth, for someone to say sorry and ensure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else again”.  Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Dr Gabriel Scally: court-focused process “doesn’t lead to what patients and families really want, which is to know the truth, for someone to say sorry and ensure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else again”. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

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The author of the State’s report into the CervicalCheck controversy has said there should be a mechanism to address the grievances of the women affected without recourse to the courts.

Dr Gabriel Scally, whose 2018 report found gaps in the governance and expertise of the cervical cancer screening programme, was speaking after the death of Ruth Morrissey, who won a Supreme Court case taken over her treatment in March.

“In relation to Ruth Morrissey, and the other women and families, the really big issue is how to find a way of addressing the issue of errors in screening programmes, and in general, without patients having to resort to legal action,” he said.

Dr Scally, who was born in Belfast and is president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, also paid tribute to Ms Morrissey, who he said had worked closely with him while he was completing his report.

‘I admired her’

“I admired her and was very grateful for the great help she was to me during my inquiry,” Dr Scally said.

He was speaking after Ms Morrissey’s husband Paul and CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan separately criticised the State’s response to the case and called for some of the outstanding recommendations of his report to be implemented

Dr Scally said that “in general, the implementation has been very good”, and he praised work done by the Health Service Executive.

“[However], there are still some big ticket items that need work. The difficult ones – such as changing the culture around open disclosure – that is a work in progress,” he said.

‘Unsatisfactory’ court focus

Dr Scally said the court-focused process “is basically unsatisfactory and doesn’t lead to what patients and families really want, which is to know the truth, for someone to say sorry, and ensure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else again”.

Ms Morrissey was not told until 2018 that a review four years earlier showed smears had been incorrectly reported. She won a High Court judgment against two laboratories and the HSE last year. The ruling was appealed by the losing parties to the Supreme Court, which again found in her and her husband’s favour.

Speaking on Sunday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Supreme Court judgment would “set a framework against which the State Claims Agency can settle cases and settle them quickly and they should do that”.

He said the Government would improve the State’s cervical screening programme, but argued that there “will be occasions where there’s a dispute about the facts” and that some sort of hearing would be needed in those instances.

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