The Health Service Executive has apologised to a 55-year-old woman after repeated failures to diagnose her breast cancer.

Olive Fahey settled her case at the High Court against the HSE and Barringtons’ Hospital in Limerick.

The court heard that on three separate occasions between September 2005 and March 2007, Ms Fahey was assured that she did not have breast cancer.

Eighteen months later it transpired she had Grade 3 invasive cancer, and had to undergo a mastectomy,

No details of the settlement were disclosed in court but it is believed the case settled for a six figure sum.

Senior Counsel Patrick Hanratty for the HSE apologised to Ms Fahey and said the HSE wished to acknowledge the very difficult time she had been through because of her delayed diagnosis.

The HSE also acknowledged the contribution she had made to breast cancer services in Ireland.

Afterwards, Ms Fahey’s solicitor, Cian O’Carroll, said she was relieved to have the ordeal over but said the defendants had behaved appallingly by contesting the case for years, causing additional harm and bringing her to the stage where she had to lose her anonymity and her privacy.

He said as the result of the case huge advances had been made in symptomatic breast care.

This was achieved as a result of her ordeal and her sacrifice, he said.

He added that some years ago she had met the then health minister Mary Harney and "apologies were made, hugs and tears shed and assurance that something would be done and then nothing".

Yesterday, the court heard that as a result of the misdiagnosis, Ms Fahey's chances of survival went from 85-95% down to 33-41%, and that although she is now in remission, she is at high risk of recurrence of cancer and of the invasive nature of the cancer.

Ms Fahey had claimed aggravated and exemplary damages from Barringtons’ Hospital, the HSE, Mr Alec Stafford, a radiologist and surgeon Mr Paul O'Byrne, both at Barringtons’.

Her lawyer told the court that a report, ordered by the then health minister, had found there had been a significant and avoidable delay by Barringtons’ Hospital in diagnosing Ms Fahey's cancer, and a second report had concluded there had been a significant error on the part of two medical practitioners at University Hospital Galway.

That report had found that there had been clear signs of malignancy in a tissue sample from Ms Fahey sent there for analysis, despite her being told at the time it was non-malignant.

Ms Fahey's lawyer said the conduct of the defendants in denying liability until recent days had been "cavalier and outrageous" and his client was seeking aggravated damages.

The court was told that the defendants all accept liability in respect of the injury caused to Ms Fahey, but were strenuously denying liability for aggravated or punitive damages.