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Varadkar and Harris under fire over cancer victim's court ordeal

Varadkar and Harris under fire over cancer victim's court ordeal

Emma Mhic Mhathúna: launched High Court case
Emma Mhic Mhathúna: launched High Court case

Eilish O'Regan and Tim Healy

Promises by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris not to "drag" victims of the CervicalCheck scandal through the courts have been called into question amid allegations of an "aggressive" legal approach to terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna, a mother of five who is dying of cervical cancer after getting an incorrect smear test result, launched her High Court case yesterday.

However, correspondence sent on Tuesday from her solicitor, Cian O' Carroll, on the legal approach by Quest Diagnositics laboratory, where the test was read, warned the State and HSE are standing idly by while adopting a "detached approach" to the proceedings.

Among the demands by lawyers for the laboratory is that all her five children are required to be assessed by a psychologist to determine the impact on them of the impending death of their mother.

It is also demanding that Ms Mhic Mhathúna be assessed by various specialists, including a pyschiatrist. Her solicitor's letter warned that "clear commitments" were given by the Government after the High Court case of Vicky Phelan, who also has terminal cancer after getting an incorrect test.

Mr Varadkar promised non-confrontational approach from the State, while Mr Harris it was wrong t o drag any terminally ill woman through the courts.

However, Mr O' Carroll said the State and HSE are failing to follow through with a humane approach to the case and adopting an aggressive defence. The court was told yesterday that Ms Mhic Mhathúna wants it settled as soon a possible.

Her barrister, Patrick Treacy SC, asked the HSE to make a decision on its stand on liability within the next 24 hours. Ms Mhic Mhathúna is seriously ill and does not have time, he said.

"She has been told by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the Minister for Health that everything will be done and nobody will be forced to got to court and there will be mediation. She wants it settled as quickly as possible," Mr Treacy said.

Counsel for the HSE, Patrick Hanratty, said it was the first they had heard of being asked to decide on liability in the next 24 hours.

The HSE realistically could not make a decision on full liability in that time.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross said he did not think you could force a party into that position and that it was not fair. The court, he said, was not the place to make political statements.

Mr Treacy told the court it was a unique case and it involved the mother and her five children. He asked that the case be heard in the next few weeks.

He handed in a letter from the woman's GP and said the court would see how seriously ill she is. However, he said, a number of issues had emerged in the case, including in relating to the discovery of another cervical smear test of Ms Mhic Mhathúna, taken in 2010. He said the case centred on a cervical smear of 2013.

But now the new documents suggested for the first time that there was a 2010 smear as well which would have required Ms Mhic Mhathúna to have a procedure. Counsel said that information was not in documents provided by CervicalCheck.

Mr Justice Cross adjourned the case today for case management. He sa id everything will be done by the court to facilitate Ms Mhic Mhathúna's case.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna told the Irish Independent: "It's very traumatic for myself and the children. Nobody would want to be going in and out of court. This is the way the system is unfortunately - it's not patient focused."

Outside court, Ms Mhic Mhathúna's solicitor Mr O'Carroll said it was a concern that documents had now revealed that there had been an audit of 2010 smears as well as audits of smears in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said yesterday that the "State is on the side of women. The objective is to ensure that mediation is offered and these cases can be dealt with through mediation. But that does not remove the right of any person to go to court or to secure a court date as a back-up.

"In cases that may be contested, it is the State's intention to settle the case and pursue the laboratory later ."

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris was not available.

Irish Independent

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