By Martin O'Carroll | 1 May 2018

Ireland’s Smear Test Controversy - Have You Been Affected?

smear-testFollowing the award of €2.5 million by the High Court last month to a terminally ill patient who’s cervical cancer was mis-diagnosed, an urgent review of Ireland’s cervical screening process is now underway.

Since 2008, Ireland’s National Cervical Screening Programme ‘CervicalCheck’ has provided over 3 million screening tests to 1.16 million women. During this time the US laboratory Med Lab/Clinical Pathology Laboratories Ltd, and two other Ireland based laboratories, were contracted to undertake cervical screening on behalf of the Health Service.  In light of this landmark case, however, there is now a very real concern the results of over 200 smear tests may be incorrect, with the potential for some women to have received the ‘all-clear’ when in fact their results may have shown abnormal or cancerous cells.

Women across Ireland are anxiously seeking reassurance about their test results but it will likely take weeks - if not months - for medical staff to complete the relevant checks to see who has and has not been affected.

If you find yourself in a situation whereby your smear test results were incorrect and your health and well-being has suffered as a result there could be a case for medical negligence to be answered. 

To understand your rights and to ascertain if you may be entitled to compensation, please read on.

Duty of Care

All medical professionals, whether they are paid by the patient or not, have a duty of care to their patients. In this case appropriate duty of care would include:

  • Ensuring accurate testing.
  • Ensuring that results are effectively communicated.

It is a logical and understandable assumption to expect to receive results from any medical test in an accurate and timely manner, never mind a smear test, which could such have serious repercussions should something go wrong. Armed with the correct diagnosis you and your doctor  would therefore have the time to take any necessary action for further testing or treatment should this be required. It would definitely not be a normal assumption to expect to receive an inaccurate or wrongful diagnosis which could potentially delay or prevent you from accessing the right treatment at the earliest opportunity.

Loss Suffered

In order to have the right to seek compensation, you must be able to demonstrate you have suffered a loss. In circumstances such as these treatment being delayed or missed altogether would constitute a loss. In particular:

  • The delay in treatment of cancer is clearly established to result in worse outcomes.
  • When a treatable case becomes terminal.

In this case the Court deemed that the lady’s cervical cancer would have been treatable if it was accurately identified in her 2011 smear test. Unfortunately, it was 2017 when the patient discovered that she had cervical cancer and by this stage it was categorised as terminal.

Time Frame

In cases of medical negligence it is important to note that claimants have up to two years from the time when they first become aware of the breach of duty of care to file a case. Even if the actual events (i.e. the misdiagnosis) happened much earlier, this timeline does not start until the moment you become aware of it.

The smear test controversy in Ireland has made distressing reading for many, namely the millions of women who have had screening in recent years as a means to proactively check and safeguard their cervical health. 

As the full extent of the investigation becomes known, it may be the sad case that more and more women find out they have received an incorrect smear test result and that by this time it may have progressed to a terminal prognosis.  Despite this unfortunate situation the option is still there for ladies who have suffered from medical negligence such as this to seek compensation from the Courts for their loss and perhaps provide additional financial support for their families in the years to come.

For further legal advice and guidance, or to arrange a confidential appointment, please contact Martin O'Carroll.

Poe Kiely Hogan Lanigan is a leading expert in cases of Medical Negligence in Ireland and you can be assured take we a compassionate approach and provide the highest level of service at all times.

The CervicalCheck helpline number is 1800 45 45 55 (+353 21 4217612 if calling from outside Ireland).

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Written By Martin O'Carroll

Martin O’Carroll is a Partner in the firm’s litigation department. Martin was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 2003 and has been with Poe Kiely Hogan Lanigan since then. Martin is a regular contributor to KCLR Radio, providing information and advice on a range of legal matters.

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