Health Minister Calls For Full Report Into Breast Cancer Incident

The Health Service Executive is to review several cases as a precautionary measure after a woman was diagnosed with cancer after having been mistakenly given the all clear.

Three hundred women were anxiously waiting today to hear if results of breast cancer tests are correct after Rebecca O`Malley, 41, from Co Tipperary, had a breast removed in a London clinic in June 2006 more than a year after being told by medics that biopsy lab tests were negative. The mastectomy could have been avoided.

Mrs O`Malley was a patient at Limerick Regional Hospital in 2005 and tests were carried out in a specialist laboratory in Cork University Hospital (CUH) where pathologists gave her the all-clear.

She received a letter from Limerick hospital`s general manager this week telling her CUH lab staff stopped doing tests for other hospitals in the south of the country after their workload doubled. Mrs O`Malley also claimed her consultant in Limerick told her staff at CUH had been overwhelmed and samples were now being sent to London.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) issued an apology and confirmed it was now reviewing tests for 300 women patients from Limerick. But Mrs O`Malley launched a withering attack on health chiefs for failing to act when the mistake was first noticed, and also for failing to personally apologise for her suffering.

“I did not receive an apology, an apology was issued and it was passed on to me by a journalist. I did not receive it personally,” she said. “What really gauls me is that the HSE says since the hospital became aware of `her concerns` a full review is to be carried out. That implies to me they are starting the review because I`m worried about it. They knew from the end of January they had botched up – why has it taken this long.”

In March 2005 Mrs O`Malley underwent fine needle biopsy in Limerick and results from CUH said the sample was benign. The following April she went back to her GP complaining of pains in her breast and a second biopsy in June confirmed she had cancer.

Facing a four week wait for surgery Mrs O`Malley flew to London for a mastectomy and over the next five months had intensive chemotherapy. She underwent further surgery on lymph nodes in December 2006 after cancer traces were detected.

And last month as she continued her recovery, the HSE asked her not to go public as CUH is to launch a full inquiry. Mrs O`Malley insists she heard nothing back from the HSE or the hospital for a month. She said persistent calls for an independent review were ignored.

Cork University Hospital is the second largest centre for breast cancer tests in Ireland and capable of dealing with more than 100 women patients a year. Its labs also carry out tests on biopsies from other hospitals in the region but CUH stopped doing diagnostic cytology tests for Limerick patients in mid-July 2005.

Health Minister Mary Harney said she wanted a full report on the incident. “I want a full report from the HSE and from Cork University Hospital in relation to this case and I want it as quickly as possible. It`s very worrying for any woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer,” the Minister said.

Naomi Fitzgibbon, of Action Breast Cancer, said the mistake was unacceptable. “It is devastating for this woman what she has been through. It is a terrible thing that this has happened to her. For her and her family they have been through an awful ordeal,” she said. “But this is extremely rare but still it has happened and it needs to be investigated.”