US lab worker defends sending smear test slide to lab not in contract

Dr Ronald Kennedy, formerly of Quest Diagnostics, pictured at the Four Courts before giving evidence. Picture: Collins Courts

The former head of quality assurance at US laboratory Quest Diagnostics defended in the High Court the sending of the smear slides of Irish women for testing to a laboratory allegedly not stipulated in its CervicalCheck contract.

Dr Ronald Kennedy was giving evidence in the case of Ruth Morrissey who has sued over the alleged misreading of her smear slides by Quest Diagnostics in 2009 and a different laboratory in 2012.

“I don’t think we were hiding we were using a laboratory in Grand Rapids, Wyoming," he told Mr Justice Kevin Cross.

Put to him by Ruth Morrissey’s counsel, Patrick Treacy SC, the programme manager of CervicalCheck John Gleeson had previously told the court he did not know anything about the Grand Rapids laboratory being used, Dr Kennedy said CervicalCheck did know.

Dr Kennedy who was director of quality assurance at Quest Diagnostics until his retirement earlier this month was giving evidence in the long-running action by terminally ill Ruth Morrissey who has sued the HSE and two US laboratories including Quest Diagnostics over the alleged misreading of her smear tests taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme in 2009 and 2012.

She has also lodged a claim for punitive damages against the HSE and Quest relating to the issue of governance.

Dr Kennedy said the Quest Diagnostics contract began in 2008 and cytotechnologists were assigned to work on Irish smear slides only with a 10-day turnaround expected. He said Quest Diagnostics answered to the National Cancer Screening Service in Ireland (NCSS).

Mr Treacy put it to Dr Kennedy that Quest Diagnostics took it upon themselves to send slides to Grand Rapids and there was not a shred of evidence there was notice given to the NCSS.

Dr Kennedy replied: ”There is no evidence we took it upon ourselves.”

The laboratories used, he said, were adhering to Irish standards but Ruth Morrissey's 2009 smear slide he said was "part of the Goody surge" referring to when there was an uptake in the number of Irish and UK women going for cervical smear tests after the death of reality TV star, 27-year-old Jade Goody from cervical cancer.

He told the court that in the Spring/Summer of 2009, due to Jade Goody's death, a large number of Irish women went for smear tests and the large influx, he said, meant Quest Laboratories exceeded its capacity for the 10-day turnaround time and there were capacity issues.

This is why he said slides were sent to Grand Rapids and Quest had a backlog of Irish slides.

In Grand Rapids, Wyoming, where the Ruth Morrissey slide was screened, he said 23,000 Irish slides were tested there.

Ruth Morrissey at the High Court earlier this week.

Referring to the reporting of Ruth Morrissey's smear slide sent to Quest Diagnostics in August 2009, Dr Kennedy said the initials of two cryotechnologies was on the report which indicated there was full manual screening of the slide. One of the screeners he said was 20 years with Quest and the other, 30 years with the multinational.

Michael Cush SC for Quest Diagnostics told the court that Quest does not intend to call the two cytotechnologists to give evidence in the case.

Cross-examined by Mr Treacy, Dr Kennedy said cancer rates among Irish women decreased year after year once Quest Diagnostics became involved.

"I don't accept we were doing a disservice to the women of Ireland," he said.

Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul Morrissey of Kylemore, Schoolhouse Road, Monaleen, Co Limerick have sued the HSE and the US laboratory Quest Diagnostics Ireland Ltd with offices at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin along with Medlab Pathology Ltd with offices at Sandyford Business Park, Dublin 18.

It is claimed there was a failure to correctly report and diagnose and there was a misinterpretation of her smear samples taken in 2009 and 2012

The HSE admitted it owed a duty of care to Ms Morrissey. The laboratories deny all claims.

The case resumes on Tuesday.

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