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Lynsey Bennett speaking outside court yesterday. RTE NEWS

'It should not have happened': Holohan says basic commitment to CervicalCheck women wasn't honoured

Lynsey Bennett, who has two young daughters, had four smear tests between 2010 and 2016 but each time was told they were negative.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Feb 2021

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr Tony Holohan offered sympathies this evening to women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal.

Dr Holohan was speaking after Lynsey Bennett (32), who is seriously ill with cancer, settled her High Court action yesterday over the alleged misinterpretation of her cervical smear slides.

Dr Holohan said tonight that he has “huge regret” and “enormous sympathy” for the women affected by CervicalCheck and said that he “of course” has sympathy for the women affected.

“I do now, and I have done on many occasions in the past, expressed that, freely, openly, absolutely…enormous sympathy for the women concerned, because it was a basic commitment to women that wasn’t honoured.”

Asked he would like to personally apologise, Dr Holohan said that the State and Taoiseach have apologised.

“A very significant harm has been done to people who have had the experience over the course of the last number of years. There was very significant hurt of those individuals, it was investigated in great detail,” he said.

Dr Holohan added that the “failure” at the centre of the scandal “should have not happened”.

“But it didn’t impact the clinical care of those women. Because this was after the fact, after the diagnosis was made. This is after, it was information that wasn’t known it only came to light or could have come to light after the fact,” he said. 

Dr Holohan’s comments, which were first reported by The Irish Independent, come after the Government again said it will advise the State Claims Agency to settle cervical cancer cases when negligence isn’t disputed “quickly and sensitively”, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Labour’s Alan Kelly raised the case of Ms Bennett today in the Dáil.

Speaking outside court yesterday, Ms Bennett said she could now “focus on my own fight to stay alive as long as I can”.

Her case was due to start at the High Court today but was settled through mediation.

Ms Bennett, who has two young daughters, had four smear tests between 2010 and 2016 but each time was told they were negative.

After her last smear test in 2016, she was told no abnormalities were found and she would be called for routine testing in three years time.

Eleven months later she went to her GP with bleeding, and in January 2017 she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer, requiring a hysterectomy, according to RTÉ

In 2018, her cancer returned and she is now seriously ill.

Doherty asked about the promise Varadkar made about women not being dragged through the courts.

Varadkar had pledged in 2018 that no woman caught up in the CervicalCheck cancer screening scandal would have to go to court. 

The Tánaiste said at the time when he made that commitment he believed and hoped that it would be possible to settle all cases by mediation or negotiation out of court, but he said that has not been the case on more than one occasion.

Kelly said: “My heart dropped, I think everybody in the nation who watched that video, Leas Cathoirleach, of Lynsey outside the court, I mean, it was another woman failed by the State.”

“Why is she being dragged through the High Court, fighting,” he said, stating that she should be spending her time with her two daughters.

Kelly said there are over 200 such cases lining up to come before the High Court, and called on the government to appeal to the State Claims Agency to settle, particularly in cases where there is negligence admitted.

He called for the agency to act in a “humane” way, and allow these women spend their precious time with their families, and not in court. 

Varadkar said his thoughts are with Lynsey and her daughters today. 

“I hope that her treatment goes as well as possible, that she gets as much time as possible with her daughters,” he said. 

The case was settled, he said, but added that he wished it could have been settled sooner. 

“Can the state claims agency be directed to deal with cases in a humane and quick way where negligence is not disputed, the answer to your question is yes,” he said, stating that he has done so before. 

“I’m sure we can re emphasise and reiterate that point,” he said. Issues might arise when there is a dispute, where doctors say they did not read the slide incorrectly, added Varadkar.

Kelly also raised the matter of women not being able to get appointments for their smear tests carried out under Level 5 restrictions. 

The Labour leader said a list of clinics that are carrying out smear tests should be published on the CervicalCheck website, as there are GPs still delivering the service.

Varadkar said he would take up that suggestion, urging women to make their appointment as screening can save lives. 

Speaking outside court yesterday, Ms Bennett said: ”I stand here today extremely grateful to everyone who has supported me and the girls since my first diagnosis in 2017 – my family, friends, strangers, and of course my legal team.

“I send my love to all the women and their families who have fought and continue to fight our heartbreaking illness.

“I can now focus on my own fight to stay alive as long as I can.

“To my daughters, Zoe and Haley, I hope I have done enough to secure you both a future free from financial worries and that even with me not here to guide you that you can both pursue your dreams and remember Mammy loves you.”

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