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'Unacceptable' that some patients may have to get repeat cervical smears due to backlog

It emerged today that some women who were retested might have to go through the procedure again as their samples are out of date.

Image: Shutterstock/Iryna Inshyna

IT IS ‘UNACCEPTABLE’ that some patients might have to get repeat cervical smears as their samples are going out of date, the president of the Medical Council said today.

Dr Rita Doyle issued a statement after it emerged that some women being re-tested in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal might have to go through the procedure again as their samples are out of date.

The Irish Times reported today that the HSE said that in a small number of cases, certain smears may have to be retaken. This is because they may have expired (samples expire after six weeks).

The HSE also said today that all efforts are being taken to avoid samples going out of date, and that there has been a noticeable increase in the numbers of smears that contracted laboratories have to deal with.

Responding to this news, Dr Doyle said that doctors who carry out the screening should also be supported in their access to timely laboratory analysis.

She continued: “I am aware of reports of a recent development of a bottleneck in the analysis of cervical smears, whereby smears are not analysed in a timely fashion thus forcing the woman to re-attend and the doctor to repeat the smear.

This is unacceptable to both patients and doctors. This could have the potential to have a further negative impact on the public’s confidence in screening services which would be very concerning.

She said that as a GP of over 30 years, she strongly encourages the public to continue to attend for screening appointments when invited to do so.

Doyle also expressed her concern today at what she described as “the levels of inaccurate information” that are in the public domain as a result of the recent CervicalCheck scandal.

She said that the Medical Council “is very concerned at some of the inaccurate information that is in the public domain following the recent difficulties discovered with Cervical Check”.

The fact is cancer screening saves lives every week however screening is not a diagnostic exercise and there is an acceptable norm of false negative and indeed false positive results.

She said that the CervicalCheck programme has decreased the mortality rate by 7% year on year since its inception, thus reducing the number of women who die from Cervical Cancer.

“This in itself is a good news story but has been somewhat lost in the varying issues that have emerged,” said Doyle. “Women should be encouraged to take part in the screening process in the full knowledge that it is a screening test and not a diagnostic one.”

The Medical Council “eagerly awaits the publication of the Scally report” into the CervicalCheck scandal, said Doyle. It has also written to the interim director general of the HSE requesting information from any HSE reports commissioned into the matter which are of relevance to the Medical Council’s remit.

“If there are issues around professional performance or conduct relating to individual doctors they will be investigated and dealt with by the Medical Council in a fair manner according to our procedures and regulatory powers,” concluded Doyle.

The Medical Council regulates medical doctors in the Republic of Ireland.

Last week, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Vicky Phelan, the woman who raised the issue of the CervicalCheck scandal. They spoke about the need to settle cases taken against laboratories using mediation and not through the courts system.

Health Minister Simon Harris said last week that it is important that women continue to participate in the screening process. He also said he wanted to make it clear that screening is not diagnostic and as with similar programmes around the world, there is an error rate.

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