High Court reporters
Two screening laboratories have admitted in the High Court that they were in breach of their duty when they each failed to report abnormalities in smear tests of a woman who later died of cervical cancer.
Irene Teap died aged 35 in July 2017, after being diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in September 2015.
She had received negative smear test results in 2010 and 2013.
On Thursday, Ms Teap’s family settled its High Court action against the Health Service Executive and the two laboratories.
The blood of my beautiful wife and the incredible friends I have made who have passed away is on the Government’s hands and those politicians who failed to listen
Her widower, Stephen Teap, and their sons Oscar (9) and Noah (7) settled their legal claims for personal injuries, severe psychiatric upset, loss and damage.
Mr Teap further claimed his wife’s death was caused or permitted to be sustained by the defendants’ negligence and breach of duty.
Breach of duty
Texas-based Clinical Pathology Laboratories Incorporated admitted it was in breach of its duty to Ms Teap in failing to report her 2010 cytology sample as abnormal. Had this been picked up at the time, it said in its defence, it is likely she would have undergone treatment and the pre-invasive condition would have been curative.
The admitted breach “caused and/or contributed to the death” of Ms Teap, the laboratory said.
Medlab Pathology Limited, with a registered office in Sandyford Business Park, Dublin, admitted a breach of duty in not reporting her 2013 smear sample as abnormal.
Had it recorded that high-grade cells could not be excluded, Ms Teap would have been referred for colposcopy and, on the balance of probabilities, she would have been diagnosed in October 2013 with stage 1B1 cancer, it said in its defence.
If this had happened, her five-year survival rate would likely have been 89 per cent rather than 66 per cent when she was actually diagnosed in September 2015, it said.
The HSE admitted it was primarily liable, but denied it was vicariously liable, for the acts or omissions of the laboratories. It said it was entitled to a full indemnity from them.
The HSE accepted Ms Teap should have been told of the results of a retrospective audit of CervicalCheck.
Mr Teap said he heard from media reports in April 2018 that a retrospective audit had been carried out of smear slides of women who developed cancer and who had been tested under CervicalCheck.
He told the High Court he “pretty much lost my vision” when he was informed the next month that abnormalities were found on reviewing Ms Teap’s slides as part of the audit.
He alleged Ms Teap’s consultant gynaecologist had been informed about the review results nearly a year earlier, some three weeks before Ms Teap’s death.
When told she had cancer and would die, she had asked “over and over… How did this happen? I did everything right”, he told the court. The answer given was that there were limitations to screening programmes, he said.
Mr Teap said he felt the HSE obstructed her ability to seek answers and justice for herself. It wasn’t until three weeks ago, when the defendants altered their defence to admit some liability, that “we got our answer” to her questions.
The day we lost Irene we lost our world. Our world ended- hers, mine, my children
Mr Teap said justice for his late wife was “preventing the laboratories and the HSE from burying the truth along with her”.
He said he now knows that if the slides were read correctly “she would be alive today”.
“The day we lost Irene we lost our world. Our world ended- hers, mine, my children,” he added.
Approving the settlement, for which no further details were disclosed, Mr Justice Paul Coffey said the facts of the case were “dark and disturbing”. He expressed his sympathies to Ms Teap’s family.
As part of the settlement, the two boys will each receive €100,000 solatium, a statutory compensation, to be paid to them when they reach adulthood. The court heard other relatives had waived their claim to solatium in favour of the boys.
Outside of court, Mr Teap said he has dedicated the last four and a half years to seeking the truth for his late wife.
He said Irish women deserve a properly run and well-funded cervical screening programme.
He acknowledged hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by the scheme.
Mr Teap called for mandatory open disclosure to be put into law, so doctors are obliged to tell the truth.
It was a political decision, he said, to outsource the screening of cervical smear tests to laboratories abroad and to choose “price over quality”, he said.
“The blood of my beautiful wife and the incredible friends I have made who have passed away is on the Government’s hands and those politicians who failed to listen,” he added.
"The day Irene got diagnosed with cervical cancer she asked the following question - how did this happen? I did everything right. The day the HSE called me to say Irene's they had audited Irene's slides and showed different results. I knew then that I had to get the answers to the question how did this happen.
"I've dedicated the last four and a half years in battling, seeking the truth for Irene."
He said he pursued the answer to how it happened "so that our children Oscar and Noah in years to come would know that I did absolutely everything I could in not letting those who wanted to hide the truth get away with burying it."