Settlement and HSE apology for woman


THE HSE has apologised in the High Court to a woman whose breast cancer was misdiagnosed three times over a 19-month period and who had to undergo a mastectomy just days after an invasive cancer was finally discovered.

The apology was read as part of the settlement of Olive Fahey’s action over the delay in diagnosing the cancer.

She had claimed damages, including aggravated damages but details of the settlement were not disclosed.

Mrs Fahey (57), Rahinch, Littleton, Thurles, Co Tipperary, had a mastectomy three days after being finally diagnosed in 2007, 19 months after being referred to Barringtons Hospital in Limerick with a lump on her breast.

She also had to undergo 30 sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Outside court yesterday, her solicitor, Cian O’Carroll, said that as a consequence of the misdiagnosis, huge advances had been made in symptomatic breast care in Ireland. This was achieved as a consequence of Mrs Fahey’s injury and sacrifice, he said.

Mr O’Carroll said the couple’s ordeal was compounded by the various defendants contesting the case over five years and brought the Faheys to the point where they had to surrender their privacy and Mrs Fahey’s anonymity and go to court.

Mr Justice Seán Ryan heard that tissue samples from Mrs Fahey sent for testing by Barringtons to the pathology department in University College Hospital, Galway, had been returned as benign but a later report found clear signs of malignancy.

Mrs Fahey had sued Barringtons Hospital; the HSE; a surgeon at the hospital, Paul O’Byrne; and a consultant radiologist there, Alex Stafford.

The defendants admitted liability in relation to the injuries caused to Mrs Fahey but disputed her claim for aggravated damages.

On three occasions between September 2005 and March 2007 Mrs Fahey was assured she did not have breast cancer, the court was told. A grade three infiltrating invasive cancer was finally discovered in 2007, resulting in a review of breast cancer services at the Limerick hospital.

In court yesterday, after several hours of talks, the settlement was announced by Patrick Hanratty SC, and the case was struck out.

On behalf of the defendants, Mr Hanratty said he wanted to acknowledge the very difficult time Mrs Fahey had been through due to the delay in the diagnosis of her cancer and that the defendants regretted what had happened.

The HSE specifically wanted to apologise to Mrs Fahey and wished to acknowledge the significant contribution she had made to breast cancer services in Ireland, he said. The HSE and other defendants wished her the very best in the future, he added.

Mr Justice Ryan said he hoped the apology meant something to Mrs Fahey and added that he appreciated everything she had been through.

Mrs Fahey’s case led to two investigations – an inquiry ordered by then minister for health Mary Harney into the breast cancer services at the hospital and an investigation into the care of Mrs Fahey, whose tissue samples had been sent to the pathology department of University College Hospital, Galway.

The report into Barringtons concluded that there was a significant and avoidable delay in diagnosing her, while the Galway report found there were clear signs of malignancy in the samples sent for pathology there which had come back as benign.

The High Court heard that the failure to diagnose Mrs Fahey in September 2005 had catastrophic consequences, in that she had to have a mastectomy, 30 sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and also has a debilitating and discomforting swelling of her left arm.