Tipperary woman settles case over care at hospitals in Dublin and Cork

By Ann O'Loughlin

A mother of two with breast cancer who sued over the care she received at two hospitals in Dublin and Cork has settled her High Court action.

Joan O’Sullivan, who has a mutation gene which means she is at higher risk of cancer, claimed she suffered an alleged delay in the diagnosis and treatment of her cancer and as a result, her life expectancy may have been reduced.

The Tipperary woman had sued St James's Hospital, Dublin claiming she suffered an alleged perforation to her bowel during an operation in 2013 which was part of a cancer preventative plan and as a result, she has claimed plans for a preventative full mastectomy were derailed.

She had also sued the HSE over her care at Cork University Hospital where she claimed an 8mm tumour in her right breast was not diagnosed when she had a scan in 2016 and when the tumour was diagnosed 522 days later it was 3cms in size.

Joan O'Sullivan. Photo: CourtPix

The settlement of the case came on the second day of the hearing. The details of the settlement are confidential. Mr Justice Michael Hanna said he was glad to hear of the settlement and he wished Ms O'Sullivan the very best.

The court had heard that since the diagnosis of her breast cancer in October last year, Ms O'Sullivan has had twenty weeks of chemotherapy and has had a right-sided mastectomy.

Joan O'Sullivan of McDonagh Court, Old Road, Cashel, Co Tipperary had sued St James's Hospital claiming in relation to the 2013 procedure there was an alleged failure to exercise reasonable care and skill and her bowel was allegedly perforated.

She had also sued the HSE claiming there was an alleged failure to identify or to heed adequately or at all a significant abnormality in an MRI scan carried out in Cork University Hospital in April 2016 and there was an allegedly delayed diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer in her right breast.

Mr Justice Hanna was told that St James's Hospital and the HSE denied claims but the HSE this week by letter admitted a breach of duty in relation to some of the care afforded at Cork University Hospital.

Her counsel Patrick Treacy SC told the court Ms O'Sullivan, who has lost members of her extended family to cancer, was diagnosed as a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation gene which means the person has a higher risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

Counsel said it was decided there would be ongoing monitoring of Ms O'Sullivan at St James's Hospital and a treatment plan was put in place.

He said it was decided Ms O'Sullivan would have a procedure as an outpatient on March 6, 2013, to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes and a double mastectomy was expected t be carried out in the autumn of 2013.

Counsel said on March 6 "tragically and unfortunately" a simple and profound error was made and it was their case that an alleged perforation of Ms O'Sullivan's bowel took place during the suturing after the laparoscopic procedure.

It was their case that the alleged perforation should not have happened and the post-op care allegedly fell below the standard of the hospital.

Mr Treacy said Ms O'Sullivan was discharged from hospital when she was in significant pain.

Days later she was admitted to another hospital feeling unwell and with a raised temperature. She was advised she had sepsis and E-coli and she had to have another operation.

Mr Treacy said Ms O'Sullivan's plans for a preventative double mastectomy in autumn 2013 were derailed as the woman was not well, had abdominal pain and she was suffering from post-traumatic stress and having flashbacks relating to the March 2013 procedure.

On October 19, 2017 she was diagnosed with cancer in the right breast. Counsel said if Ms O'Sullivan had a mastectomy in autumn 2013, she would never have developed the two lumps in her right breast.

Counsel said on April 29, 2016, Ms O'Sullivan had an MRI scan at Cork University Hospital. Counsel said it was their case that on this occasion a tumor of 8 mms wide was present in her right breast, but there was no biopsy.

When she next had a scan in October 2017 the tumour, Mr Treacy said, was 3cms in size and it was the worst type of cancer and the most aggressive and most severe. Counsel said it was their case this cancer should have been detected 522 days earlier.

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