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HSE issues apology for breast cancer misdiagnosis
[Posted: Tue 03/07/2012 by Gillian Tsoi www.irishhealth.com]
The HSE has issued a full apology in open court for the misdiagnosis of breast cancer victim, Rebecca O'Malley.
In court today (July 2) the HSE took the rare step of making a full apology and publically accepting liability for the damage and upset caused to Rebecca and the entire O'Malley family.
"That really means something to me" said Ms O'Malley. "I take it as a positive sign that the HSE may now be changing its approach to how it deals with those it has harmed. They have a long way to go on that journey, but nevertheless, I wish them well."
Earlier on in the day, Ms O'Malley and her husband Tony made their way down the Dublin Quayside before climbing the steps of the Four Courts and entering the iconic building that so emotively symbolises the Irish justice system.
In the Dublin courthouse, they witnessed the long-awaited conclusion to the High Court proceedings that they reluctantly started against the Health Service Executive (HSE) back in May 2008.
Ms O'Malley's cancer misdiagnosis hit the national headlines in May 2007. Then followed weeks of determined lobbying for an independent investigation, so that valuable lessons could be learned. Eventually, under considerable pressure, the HSE relented and requested that the newly formed Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) conduct an independent investigation.
The subsequent HIQA report was published in April 2008. It heavily criticised the HSE and issued 14 groundbreaking recommendations that have helped transform the way that breast cancer is diagnosed and treated across the Irish health care system
The HIQA investigation report stated:
"This investigation into the quality of care offered to Rebecca O'Malley....would not have taken place without the extraordinary efforts of the patient and her husband. Rebecca O'Malley has demonstrated, through her personal experience, that the system was inadequate and was not able to respond to her needs. Every effort must be made to ensure this cannot happen again and those involved in leading and developing the health service in Ireland must learn from her experience and recognise that they are in her debt for having the courage and resilience to bring her experience to their attention."
Despite the hard-hitting tone and findings of the report and despite accepting that they had misdiagnosed Ms O'Malley, the HSE decided to vigorously contest liability for any damage caused to Ms O'Malley in the personal injury proceedings that eventually followed.
"The fact that the HSE refused to acknowledge that the 14 month delay in diagnosis and the commencement in my treatment had made any difference to me is what drove me to pursue legal action," states Ms O'Malley, now aged 46 years.
"I live each day with the tormenting thought that the delayed diagnosis of my breast cancer has reduced my chances of survival from nearly 80% down to 56% - little more than the flip of a coin. 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.
"It has taken 4 years of litigation but today, in open court, the HSE has finally admitted the harmful consequences of their error."
Ms O'Malley is firmly convinced that there must be a more humane and caring way to dispense healing justice to those harmed by medical error. "The present system is uncaring, hugely expensive, stressful and time consuming" she said.
"Furthermore, it harms the patient at least twice over and I fear that many patients who survive medical errors will not have sufficient strength or stamina to take on the might of a major public body with their seemingly endless resources."
"Finally, I must also thank my solicitor, Mr Tom Kelly of James O'Brien & Co, Nenagh, and his remarkable team for bringing this challenging case to such a satisfactory conclusion and also to my counsel Mr Liam Reidy SC, Mr Michael MacGrath SC and Mr David Humphries BL for their support and assistance throughout," said Ms O'Malley.
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