At least 10 more women have begun taking legal action against the HSE and testing labs after their cervical smear tests were bungled.
The revelation comes after a US-owned laboratory contracted to analyse smear tests for the CervicalCheck programme agreed to pay €2.5m to Limerick mother of two Vicky Phelan whose abnormal test was missed and who is now terminally ill with cervical cancer.
The Department of Health said yesterday it had been informed by the State Claims Agency that six similar cases had fully commenced in that legal proceedings had issued.
In three of those cases, the State had received indemnities from the laboratories involved. In four more cases, correspondence had been received from solicitors which indicated that legal proceedings would be issued.
The details were provided to the Oireachtas health committee which was told there was also notification of another case which was considered a potential claim.
Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said he had separately sought details on claims similar to Ms Phelan’s and he agreed with the Department of Health’s tally, although he said there was also another case he had become aware of through media reports.
This was a case which had been settled in 2013 but which did not receive publicity at the time because a non-disclosure agreement was put in place with the claimant. Ms Phelan had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement as she wanted her case heard in public because of its implications for other women.
Mr O’Brien said he was not aware of the details of the historic case. Questioned about how long he had been aware of the other cases, he repeated his assertion that he only heard about Ms Phelan’s case through media reports and he said he only became aware of the 10 other cases in the last 24 hours when he went looking for the information because he anticipated being asked about it at the committee.
It has not been revealed which of the laboratories are cited in each of the new claims. Ms Phelan’s was taken against CPL, a US owned company with facilities in Ireland, but another US company, Quest Diagnostics, is also used by CervicalCheck as is the Coombe Hospital. Quest is, however, cited in at least one claim.
It is also unclear if the State will be indemnified by the labs involved in all cases. In Ms Phelan’s case, her claim against the HSE was struck out when CPL agreed to settle.
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