Cian O’Carroll speaks to The Fifth Court podcast about Vicky Phelan and the CervicalCheck scandal.
Cian O’Carroll was this week’s guest on leading legal podcast The Fifth Court with Mark Tottenham and Peter Leonard. The interview addressed Cian’s introduction to law and how his interest in medical negligence law was stirred before going on to discuss his famous client Vicky Phelan and the wider CervicalCheck scandal, how wrong it was for the HSE and their laboratories to single out Ruth Morrissey for a test case at a time when she was dying and how well the courts work in such situations where a person has a limited life expectancy.
Cian also goes on to explain why the recent decision of Mr Justice Twomey was incorrect when it criticised the practice and particularly the practice of Cian O’Carroll Solicitors where they commission independent expert medical opinion to document the injuries of a client. The interview was recorded (unfortunately) before the recent judgment of Mr Justice Ferriter in Mclaughlin v. Dealey where he considered the practice and said that “a solicitor cannot be faulted for engaging a medical expert witness directly in an appropriate case”.
The late healthcare campaigner, Vicky Phelan was “an extraordinary person” because of her work in seeking justice for all women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, according to her medical negligence solicitor, Cian O’Carroll. The Tipperary-based lawyer described Ms Phelan, who died last November following a long battle with cancer, as the “most altruistic person” he had ever met and found working her to be “empowering” and motivational.
“She was truly willing to sacrifice an awful lot of herself, her time – which was incredibly precious – and her privacy,” said Mr O’Carroll.
In an interview on the legal podcast, The Fifth Court, Mr O’Carroll paid tribute to his client’s determination not to sign a confidentiality clause to reach an early settlement to her case in order to highlight to other women that there had cancer misdiagnoses with smear tests under the CervicalCheck screening programme run by the HSE. The solicitor revealed that Ms Phelan had stressed on the first occasion that they met that she would never sign a non-disclosure clause which he described as “very rare".
“It was a pretty shabby thing that was going on,” he remarked.
The solicitor said he believed that Ms Phelan’s campaigning had helped to improve the quality of screening programmes like CervicalCheck. However, he said the current Patient Safety Bill, which requires the mandatory open disclosure of serious patient safety incidents, highlighted how difficult it was “to find the truth from the medical profession in Ireland.” Mr O’Carroll said doctors had successfully lobbied to ensure there was a clause in the legislation, which has been described as Ms Phelan’s legacy, that would not allow the results of a restarted audit to be disclosed to a patient. He said Ms Phelan, a university educational manager from Annacotty, Co Limerick was a very private person who was not seeking attention or publicity. However, he said she would admit herself that she derived tremendous strength and support from the outpouring of love and good wishes that she received from people in Ireland and internationally. Mr O’Carroll said they developed a very close friendship from when they first met in January 2018.
“She was just a wonderful person,” the solicitor recalled
He noted that many people who face an uncertain future tend to be very altruistic, empathetic and “focused on the right things for all the right reasons” which made it easy to form good working relationships. Mr O’Carroll said he and his colleague, Siobhan Ryan, had hugged Ms Phelan at the end of their first meeting which was unusual with clients. The lawyer said that he knew straight away that they would need to act urgently to get Ms Phelan’s case listed in the High Court as she already knew she was suffering a terminal illness. At the time, Mr O’Carroll said Ms Phelan had told him that she had only six months to live.
While she was always purposeful, he added: “There were other times when she would let her hair down and have fun.
“I thought that was outrageous. To do that to a dying woman in the final months of her life was an extraordinarily unfair and unkind thing to do,” he remarked.
The medical negligence solicitor said doctors had disingenuously claimed it was an impossible standard, even though the courts had practically interpreted the test as effectively “an absence of doubt.”
Mr O’Carroll said there were ongoing legal cases for women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal which would probably still take a number of years to conclude.
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