Source: Irishtimes
Author: Mary Carolan

The HSE has apologised to the family of a deceased 59 year old man after admitting a two year delay in diagnosing his cancer and is also to pay over some €102,000 under a settlement of High Court proceedings.

John McNeive, Logalisheen, Ballindine, Co Mayo, died in August 2005 four months after he was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. Proceedings for mental distress and trauma arising from his death were brought on behalf of the family by his widow Eileen.

Liability in the case was admitted by the HSE.

The court heard Mr McNeive had been referred to University College Hospital Galway in April 2003, where he underwent a number of tests, after attending his GP with a headache.

Despite the concerns of his wife, family and his GP, it was not until April 2005 that a biopsy revealed he had extensive cancer. By that stage, the cancer had spread to his spleen and he died on August 13th of that year.

Yesterday, in a statement read before Mr Justice John Quirke, Patrick Hanratty SC for the HSE said his clients “acknowledged that there was a delay in the diagnosis of Mr McNeive”.

The HSE wished to apologise to the family of Mr McNeive for what had occurred and for all the hurt and distress caused to them, the statement added.

“The HSE acknowledges that his family could have done no more to help him,” added counsel. Eoin McCullough SC, for the family, said they were happy with the settlement proposed.

Approving the settement, Mr Justice Quirke offered the sympathies of the court to the McNeive family over “a very distressing matter.”

Mr McNeive, who had a brain tumour removed and a shunt inserted in 1966, had complained of headaches and swelling on his face in 2003 and 2004. He attended both UCGH and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. In Beaumont in August 2004, he underwent a number of tests, and a scan revealed a large tumour in his mouth.

In September 2004, a surgeon at UCGH concluded Mr McNeive did not have a tumour in his mouth, the family said. Two months later, a doctor at Beaumont concluded his problems were due to the shunt. However, after an operation to remove the shunt, a test showed there was no infection.

It was also claimed Mr McNeive’s situation was left to deteriorate further after that and that other symptoms of mouth cancer were ignored.

The HSE, it was argued had failed properly diagnose Mr McNeive’s tumour, failed to follow up on the results of tests, failed to act with any haste, ignored evidence of a tumour, and failed to provide him with adequate pain control or drugs because the diagnosis had not been made.

It was claimed, ad the HSE diagnosed Mr McNeive’s condition in August 2004, he could have undergone surgery and radiotherapy and, on the balance of probabilities, would have survived.

In a statement, Mrs McNeive and her sons David and Michael welcomed the HSE’s acknowledgment of the delay in diagnosing the illness that preceded Mr McNeive’s death.

The statement said John’s “irreplaceable love and warmth are sadly missed and his passing has left a void in our lives.”

“We hope that by highlighting the delay in the care he received, lessons will be learned and systems and procedures will be improved and that there will be better communication within the HSE,” the family added. Their motivation for bringing this case “was to seek an apology from the HSE”, they said.

They also called for “the need for reform in the law in relation to compensation in cases such as this.” The amount available for mental distress compensation where a person died was €25,394.76, which seemed “paltry when contrasted with some of the amounts of money awarded for other, perhaps less serious cases”.

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