Limerick cancer misdiagnosis patient receives apology from HSE

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

THE HSE has apologised for the misdiagnosis of breast cancer patient Rebecca O’Malley, whose treatment was delayed for 14 months following medical errors at the Mid-Western Regional and Cork University Hospitals.

THE HSE has apologised for the misdiagnosis of breast cancer patient Rebecca O’Malley, whose treatment was delayed for 14 months following medical errors at the Mid-Western Regional and Cork University Hospitals.

Full liability has been accepted by the HSE and the High Court heard this Tuesday that a settlement has been reached between the parties, details of which were not disclosed owing to a confidentiality agreement entered into by both sides.

Ms O’Malley, a mother-of-three, currently resides in the UK but was a resident of Ballina, County Tipperary, when originally referred to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in 2005 with a lump on her breast.

She was still gravely ill when she fought the HSE to release information on the background to her misdiagnosis. Now recovered, Ms O’Malley’s case was investigated by HIQA and was instrumental in the reform of cancer services in the Mid-West and around the country.

Ms O’Malley was wrongly given the all-clear when in the care of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in March 2005. A biopsy sent for analysis to Cork was misread and the correct diagnosis was made only after her GP referred her back to Limerick 14 months later. She ended up undergoing a mastectomy in London.

At the High Court this week, Pat Hanratty SC, for the HSE, said the executive admitted full liability for the misdiagnosis.

“The HSE, their servants and agents also sincerely apologises to Rebecca O’Malley, her husband Tony and their children for the continuing impact which the misdiagnosis of Ms O’Malley has had on her and her family,” Mr Hanratty read from a HSE statement.

Speaking to reporters after the case concluded, Ms O’Malley said it was the HSE’s “refusal to acknowledge” the 14-month delay in treatment made any difference to her prospects of recovery that drove her to take legal action.

“Their negligence has caused my family and myself so much pain and distress and I really needed that to be acknowledged by them.

“I wanted them to fully accept what they have done to me and my family and I wanted them to make some gesture of recompense and provide a meaningful apology.”

Patients seeking redress for medical errors were confronted by a system that was “uncaring” and had to spend significant time and resources in pursuit of justice. In such circumstances, it was difficult for patients who might “not have sufficient strength or stamina to take on the might of a major public body”.

But Ms O’Malley accepted that the HSE apology may be a sign that things are changing for the better.