Heartbroken husband who lost wife to cervical cancer says her death could have been avoided

A heartbroken husband who lost his wife to cervical cancer four years ago – and only found out in October it might have been avoided – said he is bracing himself for a wave of sad emotion today.

Gary Murray, from Finglas, in Dublin, and his four children, are among around 300 families who will relive a cancer diagnosis as the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is expected to be published.

The RCOG experts reviewed the slides of more than 1,050 women who had been through cervical screening with CervicalCheck and went on to develop cancer.

It is understood the reviewers found “discordant” results in a significant number of women’s slides before cancer diagnosis.

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It means that abnormalities were missed either through a mistake or limitations of science. Their cancer may have been prevented if abnormalities were treated.

“The report is going to bring it all back. Fiona was right all along,” Mr Murray said.

Over the past few months, women and bereaved families who submitted their slides for review have received a one-to-one report of the findings.

In the case of Fiona Murray, it was found that a smear test, reported negative in 2009, had high-grade abnormalities when it was re-examined.

She had another smear test in 2012.

Her family were left distraught and in shock when the report arrived at their home. The stark finding was that had she been referred for treatment of pre-cancerous cells in 2009, it is “likely the cancer” would have been prevented.

Mr Murray received his wife’s report on October 22, the day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a formal apology to CervicalCheck victims in the Dáil.

Ms Murray was only 35 when she died and despite feeling unwell for some time was not diagnosed with cervical cancer until 2014.

He recalled how she always believed that something had gone wrong and had various symptoms checked including blood clots, cramps and severe headaches for some time but was given the all clear.

Distraught at the thought of leaving her family behind, she put up a brave fight against the illness. She died in May 2015.

The family are comforted by the memory of the couple’s joyful wedding day on May 1, which was full of smiles and tears. They were together as a couple for 18 years and the wedding was organised by the St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown, Dublin.

Ms Murray only survived for two weeks after the wedding, leaving behind her grief-stricken children, who were aged eight to 15 at the time.

The RCOG report is separate to the CervicalCheck internal audit, revealed in April 2018, which found that the tests of 221 women were incorrect.

The audit only came to light as a result of the Vicky Phelan court case and her decision to go public.

A later investigation by Dr Gabriel Scally found CervicalCheck, which was set up in 2008, was doomed to fail.

But he said he had no evidence that laboratories used by the service in Ireland and the US were below standard.

It later emerged that slides from Ireland were sent to laboratories in Las Vegas and Hawaii without the knowledge of CervicalCheck.

Today’s report will present an overview of the findings and will include a set of conclusions and recommendations.

It will not be able to state if the slides which were found to be incorrect in their original reading were wrong due to negligence.

It will also not provide a view on individual laboratories which are used by CervicalCheck in Ireland and the United States.

The slides of those women found to be discordant will need to be independently assessed to provide an opinion on whether the miss was a result of the screeners’ fault.

It is understood the report will find that some women received a wrong result for more than one slide.

Several relate to high-grade abnormalities which were not picked up.

Those women and bereaved families have so far received a care package from the HSE which includes reimbursement for expenses related to the illness, including the cost of funerals. Women and families who believe they have a case for negligence can take legal action in the High Court or in a special tribunal which will be set up next year.

CervicalCheck has now been overhauled and a more accurate form of screening, based on HPV testing, will be introduced next year.

Mr Murray said his wish is that lessons have been learned and that the findings of the report will make a difference.

“I hope the report means no family will have to go through this ever again,” he said.

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