Cancer Screening: Statements

The Taoiseach has indicated that he wishes to make a statement pursuant to Standing Order 55 in advance of Leaders' Questions.

Late on Friday evening I was contacted by Mr. Damien Carrick. He wanted to talk to me about the terrible experience of his wife, Patricia, and his family. I want to share it with the House.

In 1994, almost 30 years ago, Patricia and Damien Carrick were married. They started a life together in Galway, where over the following years they had four children. They made a home for those children that was filled with music and filled with love. They lived a quiet life focused on their family and their community. Their first three children were getting on well with their lives and they were focused on making sure their youngest, Eoin, who has special needs, was comfortable. They were happy and were looking forward to life. Then on 29 July 2019, Trish took a call at work telling her it was likely she had cancer. A formal diagnosis, radiation treatment and chemotherapy followed, but two months ago, in September 2020, Trish and Damien were told that the cancer was terminal.

It did not have to be this way. In May 2016, Trish went for her scheduled smear test, a health procedure that she always took very seriously and never missed. If there had been an accurate reading of this sample, Trish's cancer would have been identified in good time. The appropriate treatment would have been given and the chances are that she and Damien would now be reflecting on a worrying time in their lives with the illness well behind them. However, there was not an accurate reading. Instead, the HSE and MedLab Pathology have now acknowledged that the sample of 31 May 2016 was read in a manner that was negligent and in breach of duty. The cancer was missed, it spread and it is now terminal.

While Trish was not able to travel to court to hear it, the HSE and MedLab Pathology have apologised to the Carrick family for what they have been put through. They have subsequently repeated that apology in writing. The National Screening Service has also apologised. Our President, Michael D. Higgins, has spoken to both the Carrick family and Trish's family, the O'Sullivans, in recent days. The President knew both families personally in Galway and he offered his sympathy for what they have gone through.

Last Friday I spoke to Damien by phone and apologised.

On that call, he said that Trish and he and their family would appreciate it if I would apologise in public and on the record of this House. I have absolutely no hesitation in doing so.

Trish is going through a very challenging time in her illness at the moment. Damien told me that he wanted to be with her today to listen in to the Dáil. I hope they have been able to manage to do so. I hope they are together now, listening when I say that on behalf of the Government and the nation I offer my genuine and heartfelt apologies to Trish, Damien, their son Ciaran, their daughters Rioghna and Sorcha, and to Eoin. They have been failed.

Last month, Damien publicly shared his family's terrible experience. Speaking to a journalist, he stated, "It's been awful, such a rotten hand we've been dealt." That is the truth. Trish was badly let down and their family is going through the very worst of times because of the mistakes of others. In spite of this, Trish and Damien have carried themselves with great dignity. Nothing that I say or anyone else says can change the situation they find themselves in, but I hope the genuine and heartfelt apology I offer today will bring them and their family some small measure of solace. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Members of the House for facilitating this statement.

Ba mhaith liom freisin mo chomhbhrón a dhéanamh. I join the Taoiseach in extending words of solidarity, compassion and great sorrow to Patricia and Damien and their family. I am conscious that an apology from the Head of Government and an apology from the laboratories, as well as the attention of Úchtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, will bring some level of comfort to the family but, of course, it is no substitute or real comfort for the Carrick family as they face into the most unimaginable trauma. I wish to say to them and to this House that we need to learn from this because apologies have to translate into concrete action. Anything less than that fails Patricia, fails the women of Ireland and fails their families. We wish Patricia and Damien solidarity. We have heard their story.

I thank the Taoiseach for making that statement and for advising Members of it in advance. It is very appropriate. This is not the first time we have been here, but I acknowledge the fact that it absolutely needed to be done today. I offer my solidarity and that of my party to Damien and Patricia for what has happened to them and their family. They should never have gone through this. All Deputies know that. We must learn from these events, but I worry that we are not learning from them. My good friend, Vicky Phelan, announced a couple of days ago that her cancer is back. I have known about that for a considerable period of time. We owe it to her, Stephen Teap from the Taoiseach's county, Lorraine Walsh, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and everyone else affected by this issue that we do our best for the women of Ireland. Later today, I will raise with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, the issue of the CervicalCheck tribunal. It needs to be sorted out in the coming days. It is through that action that we can honour the apologies that have been made in this House. I send my solidarity to Trish and Damien and their children.

I also wish to send my solidarity and good wishes and those of my party to Patricia and Damien, who, I am sure, wanted to be private people, rather than being in a scenario in which this kind of statement is being made by the Taoiseach. I am pleased that he has made it in this public forum and on the record. It is so important that there is some meaning in these kinds of statements. We cannot continue to see these failures. We must put the systems in place to make sure they are eliminated to the extent that they can be eliminated.

I send our good wishes to this family.

I spoke to Damien Carrick over the weekend. He informed me that the President, Paul Reid and the Taoiseach had called him to express their support to him. The Taoiseach told him that he would read into the record of the Dáil today an apology from him and the State, which meant a lot to him. He said the eight-minute phone call he had with the Taoiseach was a very important phone call, and he asked me to say that to the Taoiseach. I know this is a thing he would not want. He would love to have Trish with him to be a mother to his children, but unfortunately that is not to be. I know he is listening in today. On behalf of Damien, I thank the Taoiseach for doing that today.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I thank the Taoiseach and President Higgins for acknowledging the failure. It is truly shocking to listen to Vicky Phelan, who spoke on the radio yesterday, Emma Mhic Mhathúna, Stephen Teap and others, but have we learned anything? I do not believe we have. Since the first lockdown in March, all procedures have been backed up, with people not attending, not being called or unable to get in. Damage is being done with all kinds of cancer, including cervical, breast and prostate cancer. Doctors and other people are telling us of the damage to physical and mental health, but the Government is not listening and has not learned anything.

I do not think the HSE in its present format and the Department of Health are fit to learn. They do not want to learn. The HSE is a conglomerate that is out of control. The Taoiseach set it up. I hate to be negative on this issue, but I am partly negative. I am pleading for us to have a testing regime that is fit for purpose, which we do not have. I am pleading for the people to be seen. Some have died since they have been diagnosed. Doctors say this and they are sacked. What is going on is a travesty and a total injustice to those who have life sentences and to the rest of our country. The people are bigger eejits to listen to it and accept it.

On behalf of the Independent Group, I acknowledge the apology the Taoiseach has given to Patricia and Damien today. While that is important, we need to ensure that no other apology has to be given in this House again. That will make a real difference to that family and many others.