Quest Diagnostics, the US laboratory found to have negligently read terminally ill Ruth Morrissey’s CervicalCheck smear test, is planning to appeal a compensation judgment handed down by Ireland’s High Court.
Last week, Morrissey and her husband Paul from Co Limerick, sued over her CervicalCheck smear tests and were awarded $2.35 million (€2.1 million) damages by the Court.
The Irish Times also reports that Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) is also considering an appeal.
Attorney General Séamus Woulfe is currently examining the judgment with a view to advising whether there are sufficient grounds for appeal.
Government concerns are said to lie with the wider implications of the case rather than the award to Morrissey and her husband.
Mr. Justice Cross awarded damages of $11,200 (€10,000) against the HSE for its failure to inform Morrissey of the results of audits conducted in 2014, which found her 2009 and 2012 smears had been inaccurately read.
The audits were conducted after she had developed cervical cancer.
A second laboratory, MedLab Pathology, which was also found negligent for failing to reject a smear taken in 2012 for having an inadequate number of cells, has already indicated it may appeal the judgment.
The HSE, which runs the CervicalCheck screening programme, and the two companies that analyzed her smear tests, denied responsibility and fought Morrissey for 37 days in the High Court.
The judge’s finding that the HSE and not the testing labs have primary liability could leave it significantly exposed in scores of other cases being taken by women alleging negligence by CervicalCheck.
There are also concerns within the health service that the ruling will apply not just to smear testing but to all screening services and possibly also to diagnostic tests.
The judgment has caused particular concern at Dublin's Coombe hospital, the only Irish lab providing services to CervicalCheck.
“The hospital is continuing to provide cervical cytology services as part of the national screening programme,” a Coombe spokesman said.
The decision has been described by staff in screening services as the “death knell” for their programme, but Cian O’Carroll, Morrissey's lawyer, has said suggestions women could end up getting unnecessary treatments because of indecision over tests were “inappropriate and hysterical.”
Health sources say this threshold could undermine the cost-effectiveness of screening services, as more time would have to be spent testing samples and more patients would have to be retested.
Parties have ten days in which to lodge an appeal and the HSE is expected to prepare a memo in the coming days for the Department of Health explaining the concerns of health staff over the decision.
What is Irelands CervicalCheck cancer controversy?
CervicalCheck is the national cervical screening program which aims to reduce the number of women in Ireland who develop cervical cancer.
The program offers free screening tests to all women aged 25 to 60 who live in Ireland.
Irelands CervicalCheck cancer controversy involves several women suing the Health Service Executive (HSE) for receiving incorrect smear test results for cervical cancer.
In 2011 Phelan Vicky Phelan, a mother of two from Co Limerick, underwent a smear test for cervical cancer and although her test was read to say that there were no abnormalities, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014.
An internal CervicalCheck review found the original result was incorrect, but Phelan was not informed of this fact until 2017.
In 2018, Phelan was awarded $2.8 million (€2.5 million) after she sued Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas over the incorrect test. The case was settled for without admission of liability
Her legal case against the state was one of the catalysts for the publication of the controversy.
It subsequently emerged that at least 221 women who developed cervical cancer were not told their smear histories were part of a CervicalCheck audit and that the audit had identified errors in original smear results. It meant the women were not necessarily offered the appropriate treatment, impacting prognosis and outcomes.
A Government-backed tribunal into the cervical cancer tests scandal will be fast-tracked due to the "urgency" of finding out what happened.