Lawyer: ‘Hobbling’ people harmed by screening is no solution

“Hobbling” people harmed by cancer screening is not the solution to reducing mounting legal costs, according to medical negligence solicitor Cian O’Carroll.

The Tipperary-based solicitor was responding to concerns that the growing threat of legal action and multimillion-euro payouts are putting the future of the national breast screening programme at risk.

Mr O’Carroll represented terminally ill Limerick woman Vicky Phelan in her recent High Court Case. He also represents a number of other women who are bringing actions over CervicalCheck misdiagnoses.

He confirmed yesterday that while he was involved in a case relating to BreastCheck, he does not represent any of the 15 women who recently sent letters to the screening service.

BreastCheck’s clinical director, Ann O’Doherty, said one of the service’s four screening units was notified about 15 potential legal actions in the past two weeks. She has worked in breast screening for 30 years and would not have more than one medico-legal case a year.

Prof O’Doherty told the Oireachtas health committee that escalating legal costs could make BreastCheck unsustainable and feels that there should be an agreed mediation process.

Mr O’Carroll, who was speaking on RTÉ radio, said he does not think a case could be brought against the screening service if somebody’s cancer was simply missed.

And, he said, there is no cost imposed on the State if a woman wants to have her records reviewed by an independent expert:

“The cost to the State can only occur where the woman is in a position to bring a successful action against the State for negligence.”

Mr O’Carroll said there does not appear to be a problem regarding the quality of the service that Prof O’Doherty is providing.

Also, if she received one letter a year up to now and the State Claims Agency is only aware of four cases at a tentative stage, there is no problem regarding litigation.

If there was a problem with the quality of a cancer screening service, surely the solution is not to “hobble people” who had been harmed from taking legal action and vindicating their legal rights, he noted.

The solution is to have the clinical directors address the quality issue but that had not happened in CervicalCheck.

“Very serious errors were coming back; they were known to senior management in CervicalCheck and they were not reacting to them in a patient safety focused way.”

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