Tánaiste Simon Coveney has apologised to a dying mother over her cancer misdiagnosis as he confirmed that health chiefs are checking if more women were left in the dark over inaccurate test results.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary raised in the Dáil the tragic case of Limerick mother of two, Vicky Phelan, who had her cervical cancer misdiagnosed after a screening in 2011.
The Mayo TD said the attitude by health personnel in the case has been “cruel and bizarre in the extreme”.
In January, Ms Phelan was given between six and 12 months to live. This week the 43-year-old settled a claim against the HSE for €2.5m. The shocking case dominated Dáil debate yesterday.
The Tánaiste said it has been a “shameful series of events”, particularly where information flow is concerned. He said sorry to Ms Phelan and her family: “The tragedy and challenges that Ms Vicky Phelan and her family are facing now have been made all the more difficult because of the failings in passing information on. For that, as Tánaiste, I want to apologise to her and to her family.”
All efforts are now being made to check if other women have not been informed of inaccurate cancer test results, the Dáil heard.
“It has now been decided that patients will be advised as part of the process in the future. That will not be optional. It will be automatic.
"A process is also under way to identify any other women affected in the same way as Ms Phelan, to ensure that they are informed as is necessary.”
However, there is now concern that public confidence in cervical cancer screening could fall. Mr Coveney outlined how 250,000 women get such screening annually and that the CervicalCheck service has found more than 50,000 pre-cancerous changes in women, leading to early treatment.
It is regrettable that Ms Phelan had to take a court case, added the Tánaiste, and it is also regrettable that patients do not have automatic access to test result changes or audits, he suggested.
However, Mr Calleary lambasted health officials for withholding the audit results and information from Ms Phelan in the first place, telling his counterpart: “I know the Tánaiste would agree that it is beyond words that Vicky had to face the prospect of terminal cancer, and the fact that information was knowingly withheld from her and her doctors makes it completely inexplicable and frankly absolutely unacceptable.”
In response, the Tánaiste told the chamber that quick changes are being made to give patients automatic entitlement to information, as opposed to relying on the judgment of a doctor to pass on details.
Work is also underway to establish whether there are other women in the same category, he said.
Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire noted that had Ms Phelan’s cancer been detected in 2011, she would have had a 90% chance of being cured.
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