As more details from the harrowing cervical check scandal emerge, so too do the heartbreaking stories from the families of those affected. Grace Rattigan from Tallaght described her family’s shock, anger and disbelief following the news that her mother Catherine Reck was one of the 17 women who died as a result of the scandal.
Grace’s mother Catherine passed away on April 13th, 2012 following a routine smear test in November 2010. The results from that test were given to her as low-grade abnormalities or pre-cancerous cells. She was told to wait 6 months and return for a retest such is the procedure for those type of results.
Catherine then began having irregular bleeding shortly after this test. When the bleeding got increasingly worse she presented herself to a GP In April 2011.
That GP then wrote to Cervical Check in Tallaght Hospital to inform them that Catherine needed to be seen. The GP informed Catherine’s family at the time that they marked Catherine’s case as “urgent”. They later discovered that they had never marked Catherine’s case as urgent. A family member who works in Tallaght Hospital went to the Colposcopy Clinic to see why Catherine’s “urgent” referral had not been addressed. Following this, Catherine was called for a colposcopy in Tallaght on the 11th of August 2011. She was told there and then that they were highly confident it was cervical cancer and would do a biopsy which confirmed Catherine had stage 3 cervical cancer.
This, said Grace, is where their nightmare began. Catherine and her family faced 8 harrowing months before she sadly passed away on April 13th, 2012 aged 48.
The audit of cervical tests has uncovered that the smear Catherine received in November 2010 was incorrectly reported. It was not low-grade abnormalities, it was in fact exceedingly high-grade abnormalities and needed immediate attention. Graces family have now been informed that had this been reported correctly the colposcopy would have been requested immediately and would have been conducted no later than January 2011.
Conversely, as a result of this discrepancy, the colposcopy was not carried out until August 2011, 7 months later, meaning treatment didn’t begin until October 2011, almost a year after the incorrect smear test result was received.
“Things could have been very different for all of us right now. That is what we are trying to process, we feel as though we are starting our grieving process all over again. It feels like a wound has been ripped open, the sadness and anger is palpable.”
“The doctor we sat in front of this week in Tallaght hospital was the same doctor who originally diagnosed Catherine. We were invited to suite 8 of the hospital, the Cervical Check suite. We had hoped for a private room, totally detached from the area which holds so much pain and sadness for us. We were not that lucky. The first staff member we encountered had no idea why we were there and met us with suspicion and condescension.”
“We stood in a hallway with blank faces observing the staff scramble to figure out why we were there. They then realised and spent the next few moments scrambling to find a ‘free room’ for us to meet the doctor. The doctor arrived and we were led into an examination room. A colposcopy examination room with an examination bed and stirrups sitting in the room with us. It’s quite possible this is the exact room Catherine received her examination and diagnosis in.”
“The doctor sat in front of us and informed us that they were made aware of the discrepancies in Catherine’s smear test result in 2016. The same doctor stated that they had followed instruction on a letter from Cervical Check.”
The instructions read:
“In the cases where a woman has died, simply ensure the result is recorded in the woman’s Notes”
“They chose not to inform us. There was, in fact, a handwritten note scribbled by the doctor on the letter. The note read: “Find out if the patient is Alive or Not” that’s how much regard the doctor gave the situation. You can imagine how it felt to sit opposite the doctor and hear from their own mouth that they chose to not tell us.”
“Even the manner of how we were notified was questionable. When this issue began to come into the media, Catherine’s next of kin and husband Paul phoned Cervical Check to ask if our family were affected. He has since got several automated texts addressing him as if he was a woman concerned about their own smear results, not the widow of one of the women.”
“The doctor then phoned Paul last Friday night at 19.00 to tell him we were affected but added no other real detail and arranged for us to come in. Being left the entirety of a bank holiday to mull over the minimal information and not be able to do anything until the following Tuesday.”
“We are numb, we are angry; we have been brought back to the start of a long and difficult grieving process. This changes everything, all of the “what if’s” suddenly feel different. We spent the last six years accepting that we were dealt a shitty hand, that bad things happen and unfortunately it happened to us. To learn this could have potentially been avoided, it now feels like Catherine’s life and her positive impact on our lives was stolen.”
“Every milestone we have passed without her through cloudy eyes and heavy hearts now feel like an extension of this sense of being “robbed”. We are ready to fight this. We are not calling for heads to roll. We won’t be causing undue panic or concern on the system. We want answers for Catherine, her family (us) and the other women and families who have been failed. We want accountability. Above all else we want change. We never want this to happen to any woman or her family in this country again.”
Grace is herself now a mother of two and runs her own personal blog and regularly promotes cervical cancer awareness and the importance of women getting smear tests.