Varadkar must act fast to remove women from ‘three-way battles’

Solicitor urges Taoiseach to clarify how State will take over women’s cases against US labs

Orla Kelly of Cantillons Solicitors in Cork: “Some people are terminal, they need treatment, and they need the money now to invest in medical care.” Photograph: Diane Cusack Orla Kelly of Cantillons Solicitors in Cork: “Some people are terminal, they need treatment, and they need the money now to invest in medical care.” Photograph: Diane Cusack

Orla Kelly of Cantillons Solicitors in Cork: “Some people are terminal, they need treatment, and they need the money now to invest in medical care.” Photograph: Diane Cusack Orla Kelly of Cantillons Solicitors in Cork: “Some people are terminal, they need treatment, and they need the money now to invest in medical care.” Photograph: Diane Cusack

 

A solicitor acting for women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy has urged the Taoiseach to act quickly and fulfil his promise to take over their legal claims to avoid them facing traumatic court trials.

Orla Kelly, a solicitor with Cork firm Cantillons, called on Leo Varadkar to clarify the Government’s plan to take over the cases taken by women with cervical cancer suing US laboratories over false smear tests.

The Taoiseach said last week that, in an effort to save other women from the ordeal of going to trial, the State would seek a settlement with the women through mediation and then pursuing the labs for damages.

Ms Kelly, whose firm acted for the husband of Irene Teap, the Cork woman who died of cervical cancer last year, asked Mr Varadkar not to wait until the conclusion of the Scally inquiry at the end of next month as affected women were facing high legal and medical costs in “three-way battles” with the Health Service Executive and the labs.

Dr Gabriel Scally is the independent chair of a scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy.

The Government can sue the labs on the basis of the contracts between the HSE and the labs, Ms Kelly says.

‘Empty promises’

“What we would ask is that there is clarity. At the moment, it is just empty promises if the Taoiseach says none of these ladies should have to fight their cases,” she said. “That is an empty promise unless they take over the cases and deal with them in a humane way, which will save costs in the long run rather than having these three-way battles.”

Mrs Teap was one of 18 women who received 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.

Her husband only learned of the false tests when he was contacted by the HSE earlier this month.

Cantillons is representing another Co Cork woman diagnosed with cervical cancer in January 2016 who learned at the end of that year that three previous smear tests, in 2011, 2013 and 2014, were inaccurate.

Ms Kelly said that the woman did not want to be identified. The woman was told about the false smear tests by her consultant gynaecologist in November 2016.

Cervical cancer

The firm is arguing that the false tests delayed a diagnosis of cervical cancer and that if she had been tested properly – and it was reported to her on a timely basis – her cancer could have been caught earlier and she would have had much less invasive surgery. Her treatment means she can’t have any more children.

Ms Kelly, who is representing other women, warned that without the State taking over the cases quickly, the claims will be “more complicated and costly for the women and more difficult and distressing”.

“People are in limbo so they either do nothing or they take the fight on themselves,” she said. “Some people are terminal, they need treatment, and they need the money now to invest in medical care.”

The affected women are also under time pressure as legally any cases must be taken within two years from the date they became aware of the false test.