‘They said she was the only one, then Vicky Phelan happened’

6 January 2022

A man whose wife died from cervical cancer more than five years ago has told the High Court that, when she was in hospital, CervicalCheck visited her and asked her not to go public about her case.

“CervicalCheck visited her in hospital and asked her not to go public,” Cathal Curtis told Mr Justice Paul Coffey.

“They said she was the only one, then Vicky Phelan happened.”

He said if there was no Vicky Phelan case, the case of his wife Michelle Silke Curtis would have broken the CervicalCheck controversy.

Mr Curtis was speaking as he settled the action his wife started over the alleged misinterpretation of four of her smear slides.

Mother-of-two and nurse Michelle was 45 when she died in 2016, one year after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer.

The settlement against the HSE, two laboratories and a GP, was without admission of liability. The terms are confidential.

The Curtis family counsel Oonah McCrann SC with Sara Antoniotti BL instructed by Valerie Corcoran solicitor, told the High Court there was a “catalogue of tragic errors” and it was an enormous distress to Ms Silke Curtis that her case was not finalised before her death.

Her grieving widower Cathal told the judge he feels “quite insulted” by the behaviour of the defendants in the case and said they had agreed to settle but “Michelle sadly died”.

He said it has taken five and a half years to get to the point where the settlement could be ruled by the court. He said their lives have been stalled and, 10 weeks after Michelle’s death her father Bill Silke died.

“The shock of the cancer diagnosis, it broke his heart,” he said.

Referring to the litigation his wife had started, he said: “She said to a family member: ‘It has ruined my life. It has ruined my husband’s life’.”

Mr Curtis who sat in the witness box of Court One in the Four Courts said he was infuriated that it took four years to be told that a US laboratory had tested some of his wife’s smear tests.

He said he struggles as a lone parent to his daughters Annie and Sarah.

“Michelle was a lovely lady and mother who just wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

“I hate Mother’s Day now and Valentine’s Day.

“I struggle hugely being a solo parent. I love my kids but I have to make every decision as a sole parent,” he said.

Mr Curtis of Oranmore, Co Galway, had sued the HSE, Medlab Pathology Ltd with offices at Sandyford Business Park, Dublin; US laboratory Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc with offices at Austin, Texas and GP Saber Elsafty of Cappagh Road Surgery, Cappagh, Road, Galway.

The case related to four cervical smear tests taken between 2010 and 2012 which it was claimed were allegedly misinterpreted and misreported.

In September 2007 Ms Silke Curtis, it was claimed, had a smear test but unbeknown to her the sample was reported as borderline with advice to refer further.

It was claimed Dr Elsafty failed to inform Ms Silke Curtis of the result or to advise her and follow up on the report.

Three years later in November 2010, Ms Silke Curtis had a smear test under the National Cervical Screening Programme and it was sent to the MedLab laboratory for testing.

Atypical squamous cells were reported to be present with a follow-up smear advised for six months later.

In May 2011 Ms Silke Curtis had a repeat smear which was reported by MedLab as negative but in view of the previous abnormal result she was advised to have another test in six months.

In November 2011 she had another repeat smear test which was also reported negative by MedLab and a repeat smear was recommended for six months later.

In their defence delivered in 2019, three years after her death, the HSE and Medlab advised that the samples taken in November 2010, May 2011 and November 2011 were interpreted and reported on by the American laboratory Clinical Pathology Laboratories (CPL) which is based in Texas.

All the claims were denied by all defendants.

In September 2012, Ms Silke Curtis had a further repeat cervical smear test which also came back as negative and she was told by letter she would be advised of her next routine smear test in three to five years. Three years late in June 2015, she was diagnosed with a cervical tumour.

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