Representatives of BreastCheck and Professor Arnold Hill at the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning
Representatives of BreastCheck are answering questions at a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee.
It follows a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee around two weeks ago in which it emerged four cases are being taken against the State over alleged misdiagnosis of breast cancer through the screening service BreastCheck.
At the health committee meeting today, Labour TD Alan Kelly asked Clinical Director of BreastCheck Ann O’Doherty how many letters of apology have been issued to women by the HSE, on behalf of BreastCheck, since the screening service began and over the past year.
They had this exchange…
Ann O’Doherty: “I honestly cannot say that I have any comprehensive knowledge of what litigation cases are in front of…
Alan Kelly: “Well, the State Claims [Agency] have said four…”
O’Doherty: “I honestly, that’s something I wouldn’t know. And personally I’m only aware of BreastCheck having written one letter, from the HSE, on behalf of BreastCheck, having written one letter of apology. Now I don’t know – there could be more. But I would have thought it would have come to our executive group management meeting if there were because that would have certainly did, went at a very high level.”
“But I can’t promise, I can’t say when it was but I imagine it possibly was in the last year? But that’s the only one I know of. But I wouldn’t necessarily have a comprehensive…”
Kelly: “Is that normal, a letter like that would issue?”
O’Doherty: “Well I think that there was, this is all hearsay, but I know that it did come about at our executive management team meeting that there was a case settled and one of the things that the plaintiff wanted was a letter of apology. And there was a lot of discussion over who should sign it. It was issued and that’s the only one I personally know of.”
O’Doherty: “I have been working for 30 years in breast cancer screening and I would probably say I haven’t had more than one medical legal case a year – where solicitors are involved. In my unit, in the last two weeks, we’ve had 15 and what my great concern is, in this country, that the litigation is going to cost so much that [inaudible] is going to have to come to us and say we’re going to have to stop screening because it’s just costing so much…
“I mean 15 in two weeks, and not having even had one a year. And it’s the same solicitors. There has been a huge focus on solicitors and litigation in the media. And we’re now seeing that. And that’s in my unit and we have four units.
“So yes, there is a huge concern: are we going to be able to continue screening?”
Arnold Hill: “The issue in the health service where you have a test that if you line up 100 women with breast cancer and did a mammogram on all of them – ten of them, it won’t show.
“Now, in this country, those ten people, if they get a good solicitor, can get about a very large sum of money, ranging up to a million and I would suspect will go higher in the years ahead.
“That’s unsustainable. So if you could do anything, I think a woman, first of all, when they come and have a mammogram, like in BreastCheck where they sign and understand that there will, it’s not a perfect test, but in this country, if you’re one of those ten, it’s almost like you’re entitled to €1million in medical legal costs. That’s unsustainable.
“So what I would suggest to you is there needs to be urgent medical legal reform. Urgent. And we’ve known this for a long, long time and it is, the problem is that you have vested interests that will block it.”