herald

Saturday 7 December 2019

'It's a disgrace' - family's anger at how State 'wasted millions' fighting sleep disorder case

Student teacher Aoife Bennett contracted narcolepsy
Student teacher Aoife Bennett contracted narcolepsy

The family of a young woman who sued the State and drugs giant GSK after contracting the sleep disorder narcolepsy when she was given the Pandemrix vaccine has slated as "a national scandal" the millions of euro in taxpayers' money spent defending the case.

The Department of Health and the HSE dramatically settled the High Court action taken by Aoife Bennett (27) who received the controversial vaccine at the height of the swine flu pandemic fears in 2009.

The settlement, the details of which remain confidential, is without an admission of liability.

In 2009, the State had agreed to indemnify GSK to allow the vaccine to be fast-tracked into service.

In the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Michael McGrath was told by Ms Bennett's counsel, Denis McCullough SC, that the case had been settled.

The settlement came just days after one of the world's leading experts on narcolepsy revealed GSK and the UK government were engaged in a confidential mediation process with those in the UK who contracted narcolepsy after receiving Pandemrix.

Further, the High Court action last week heard that key data on the vaccine was not included in Irish medication reports because it was considered to be "useless".

However, that data indicated that Pandemrix had a 10 times greater risk of producing serious side effects than a sister vaccine manufactured by the same company.

Ms Bennett and her family said they now hoped that the State decision to settle their action would pave the way for 100 other pending claims over narcolepsy to be settled with proper compensation being paid to claimants.

Wasted

The settlement for the student teacher was against the Department of Health and HSE.

GSK and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) were not party to the settlement and will not pay anything in costs or compensation.

"It is a national disgrace that millions in taxpayers' money has been wasted in defending my case and other similar cases against children and young people who do not have any right to legal aid," said the Kildare woman's mother, Mary Bennett.

She said the public was not made aware that there were safety issues over the vaccine - and she called for a full review of the drug regulatory system in Ireland.

The Bennett family also hit out at the way they were treated over the past decade by the State. Ms Bennett had broken down while giving evidence.

"The behaviour of the defendants prior to and during the trial has been exceptionally hostile," her parents Pat and Mary said in a statement.

"Further, the State Claims Agency have taken a very adversarial approach in dealing with Aoife's case.

"Today, Aoife has succeeded in recovering compensation and her case has been vindicated. However, no money will ever compensate Aoife for a lifetime of living with the incurable disability of narcolepsy and cataplexy."

The vaccine was rushed into service because of fears in 2009 of a global swine flu pandemic.

However, it had not fully completed clinical trials and, to get it into service, the government agreed to indemnify GSK.

A Swedish study, started in 2010, found a 13 times greater risk of getting narcolepsy among teens who received the vaccine.

Pandemrix was finally withdrawn on March 28, 2011.

The Government and GSK denied liability in High Court actions lodged over Pandemrix.

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