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Irene Teap's family told there was negligence in reading of one of her smears

The 35-year-old Cork woman died of cancer in July last year.

Image: Stephen Teap

THE FAMILY OF a woman affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, and who died of cancer last year, has heard from an independent expert that there was negligence in the reading of one of her smear test slides.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Stephen Teap said an independent review of Irene’s smear tests has concluded one of her slides was incorrectly read and that there was a breach of duty of care in the reading of this slide.

This independent expert review will form part of a legal case against the State and the lab that tested the slide which will be launched next year. Once proceedings are issued, the State and the lab will be allowed to challenge this opinion and call their own expert evidence. 

Some 221 women are affected by the CervicalCheck scandal and not all of the recategorised smear tests can be classed as having been negligently read – some may have been reported within the limitations of the screening programme. 

Abnormalities

Irene Teap, a 35-year-old mother of two young boys, died of cancer in July last year. She was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015 and – despite treatment – the disease spread to her liver and lungs. 

She was included in an audit of smear tests results by the HSE as she had smear tests in 2010 and 2013, neither resulting in follow-up appointments. The CervicalCheck audit found that there were abnormalities in both of those slides.

Irene and Stephen Teap were not told that this audit – which took place and concluded while she was still alive – was happening. It was 10 months after he lost his wife that Teap was told she was one of the women impacted by the scandal. 

Earlier this year, the 221 women or their families were contacted and informed that one or more of their smear test slides had been recategorised. All of these women had contracted cancer after receiving negative results.

The CervicalCheck programme is not a diagnostic process, rather it gives clinicians an indication of changes in cells and this may lead to a more detailed investigation. 

The tests are 70% effective and, as with all screening programmes, false positives and false negatives are unavoidable. This does not mean there was incompetence always at play – it means there are necessary limitations to the programme. But, in some cases it may be the case that the errors occur outside what would be considered ‘normal’ in the operation of a screening scheme. 

According to the review undertaken in Teap’s case, the independent expert has deemed that there was an error of the latter kind in the reporting of one of those slides.

‘The system failed her’

Teap’s legal team will use this new expert evidence to argue that the incorrect reporting of one of Irene’s smear tests was a breach of duty of care, rather than falling within the limitations of the screening programme. 

He told TheJournal.ie that his campaigning since he found out about the scandal has been a fight on two fronts. The first is to get answers for everyone affected and to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The second is his own personal battle to find out what happened in Irene’s case and to pursue justice for their two boys, Oscar and Noah. 

“Since the start of May I’ve been trying to request Irene’s medical files – [I] couldn’t get those for ages but we finally got them. We got Irene’s smears eventually back in August and it was last Friday that for the first time we got a conclusion on exactly what happened.

Her medical review is finally back for the first time eight months later – we got confirmation that it was negligently misread and there was a breach of duty of care.

Teap said this is a confirmation for him that “the system failed her, [and] she did not have to have cancer”.

He said that while last year was the family’s first Christmas without Irene, this will be the first without her “knowing she should still be here”. 

Stephen Teap was speaking to TheJournal.ie as part of a new podcast series called Left Behind, which will be launched later in January. Tune in to catch his full interview.

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