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Emma’s story: ‘If I had got the right results in 2013, I wouldn’t be where I am now’

Emma Ní Mhathúna was home alone, aged 23, when someone knocked on her door to tell her her mother, aged 44, was dead.

“It’s like that again. I’m waiting to open my eyes and to be back in my bed and that this is not true,” she said yesterday in an interview with RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Emma Ní Mhathúna is one of the at least 208 women whose smear tests were incorrectly read, and subsequently went on to develop cervical cancer, despite having religiously attended CervicalCheck, the national screening programme.

She found out she was in that hapless cohort last Sunday following a call from her doctor in Dublin where she had initially been treated after being diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer in 2016.

“Last Sunday, my doctor in Dublin called. He said that he hoped I was reading the stories in the paper about the CervicalCheck. He said he didn’t have all my files in front of him, but that I was one of the women involved.

“I asked him to call Cork and to tell them to take good care of me.”

In a further phonecall with her doctor, Emma was given more information on the situation.

“The doctor told me that the smear results I got in 2013 were wrong … the first indications of cancer, the cells changing in the body, were there.

“If I had got the right results at that time, I wouldn’t be where I am now … I had a kidney infection in January, I have a lung infection now. My life … well I’m not too worried about my life, but the kids are very very young.”

Emma said she was shocked when she got the news on Sunday, and that she’s still in a haze.

“I’ve an appointment with my doctor today[yesterday] because my head is spinning. I’m still going round in shock, is it true?

“In 2004, I got a knock on my door to tell me my mother was dead. It was unbelievable, she was 44. I was 23 at that time, and on my own.

“It’s like that again. I’m waiting to open my eyes and to be back in my bed and that this is not true.”

As it happens, Emma was central to the HSE promotional video “I’m relieved that she is protected” for the HPV vaccine last year.

“There wasn’t enough uptake on the HPV vaccine. After what I’d gone through ... I said I’d have to take a stand and help people. That video is on YouTube— that’s me and my daughter.”

Emma’s story emerged in the wake of a case taken by Vicky Phelan, a 43-year-old mother of two whose initial smear failed to picked up cancer warning signs. Ms Phelan did not become aware that there were abnormalities in a smear carried out in 2011 until 2017, by which stage she had terminal cancer.

CervicalCheck had known this information since 2014, when it had conducted a review of her screening history following her cancer diagnosis, but failed to pass the information on.

The HSE subsequently said 208 women whose cancer warning signs were not detected would have been given different treatment if their smears had been read correctly in the first instance.

This figure could rise significantly after Health Minister Simon Harris said last night that substantial numbers of women with cancer had not had their screening history audited, as initially believed.

The minister told theDáil new information had emerged, saying: “Whilst I had previously been advised, and it had been commonly understood that CervicalCheck clinical audit covered all cases notified to the National Cancer Registry, I have been informed this afternoon that this is not the case.

“While CervicalCheck has audited all cases notified to it, I have been informed that a potentially significant number of cases will not have been subjected to an audit of their screening history.”

- Irish Examiner