Woman Gets $8.74M in Irish Cervical Cancer Screening Scandal

Roxanne Nelson, BSN, RN

July 03, 2018

The Irish cervical cancer scandal continues, as another woman has just been awarded a large settlement.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna, a 37-year-old woman from County Kerry, Ireland, has settled her case for €7.5 million ($8.74 million), according to various Irish media reports. A single mother of five, Mhic Mhathuna is now terminally ill following a misreading of cervical cancer screening test results. She had undergone testing 2010, 2011, and 2013, and all three tests were reported as negative.

If the tests had been accurately read, she could have received treatment at an earlier stage of cervical cancer and so would not now be facing death.  

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, Ireland has been rocked by the eruption of a huge scandal over misread cervical cancer screening results. The government-funded screening program in Ireland mistakenly reported negative results to 209 women who were later diagnosed with cervical cancer, from 2010 to 2014. Within this group, 17 women have since died and authorities now believe that many more women may have been affected.

At the heart of the situation is a decision made more than 10 years ago to outsource screening samples to be examined in the United States. At that time, an expert warned against the idea, but Irish officials dismissed the warning.

Another major piece of the scandal was that Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE), which runs all of the public health services in the country, knew about the situation long before it became public. Both the HSE and the government-run CervicalCheck program were strongly criticized in the Irish media over the lack of follow-up with physicians and for withholding audit results from the affected women.

The screening debacle came to light only  because one Irish victim, Vicky Phelan, 43, who is now terminally ill with advanced cervical cancer, reached a legal settlement of €2.5 million (about $3 million) with the Clinical Pathology Laboratories in Texas over a 2011 test that missed her cancer. She then refused to enter into a confidentiality agreement to stay silent, and the whole scandal came to light.

Liability Admitted, Apologies Issued

Mhic Mhathúna was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016, but it wasn't until 2 years later that she learned that her smear test from 2013 actually showed signs of cancer.

According to a report in the Irish Mirror, Mhic Mhathúna had a screening test done on July 10, 2013, which was sent to Quest Diagnostics laboratory to be read. She was told a month later by the HSE that her test showed no abnormalities.

Following a screening test done on August 19, 2016, she underwent a colposcopy examination and a biopsy and was subsequently diagnosed as having invasive cancer cells.  Mhic Mhathúna received chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but her cancer has since spread to her lungs and spine and she has been informed that her prognosis is extremely poor and terminal.

Screening test results were reviewed by the HSE and Quest, on samples obtained from several women who had gone on to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Mhic Mhathúna's previous smear samples were reviewed between April and August 2017, but she claimed that she was not informed of the results of those reviews.

In her case against the HSE and Quest, she claimed that they failed to use reasonable skill, care, and judgment when reviewing her test samples and that she had been deprived of the opportunity for treatment at a time when her cancer may have been curable.

However, just a few days before her lawsuit was set to go to trial, a settlement was reached in mediation. The HSE admitted liability for failing to disclose the audit findings, and Quest admitted liability for misreading smear test results. Quest also apologized to Mhic Mhathúna.

The State Claims Agency, which defends the State in legal claims, issued the following statement after the settlement was reached: "This case, the successful result of which was reported to the High Court today, was resolved in accordance with the principles outlined by the Government last month, which focus on expediting resolution of all cases in a sensitive manner, working co-operatively with the co-defendant laboratories, utilizing mediation and placing a high priority on treating people with dignity and compassion."

Mhic Mhathúna stated that she welcomed the apology from Quest because "the higher the money and the more apologies they have to give the greater chance that Quest Diagnostics will make changes."

"Whether I'm dying or not, justice is the priority here and I wasn't going to come into court a victim, I came a victor," Mhic Mhathúna said after the settlement.

More Cases Coming

Cian O'Carroll, the lawyer who represented Mhic Mhathúna and had also represented Phelan,  says that he plans to ask the court for an early trial date for another woman involved with the scandal. In addition, another terminally woman, identified in court only as Mrs K, settled last week on confidential terms.

The Irish Times also reports that the State Claims Agency announced last month it was trying to bring legal cases to mediation as quickly as possible and is dealing with 28 legal claims over the CervicalCheck tests, as well as potentially facing two additional lawsuits. Mediation had thus far been offered in four cases.

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