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CervicalCheck: It has cost €9.6m to give free repeat smear tests to women

Women who had had a free smear test were offered a repeat between May and December 2018.

THE COST OF providing “out-of-cycle” smear tests is €9.6million, the Department of Health confirmed to the Public Accounts Committee today.

In an attempt to strengthen trust in the CervicalCheck programme, Health Minister Simon Harris announced last year that women who had received a free smear test could get a repeat done. This offer was available between May and December last year.

Concerns about the programme had been raised after 221 women who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in the past 10 years were not told that their past smear tests had been audited, and it was found that they had been interpreted incorrectly.

As a result of the government’s offer for repeat smear tests, there was a surge in demand for the CervicalCheck programme, and this led to a massive backlog in results being received. Waiting times for results increased from 2-4 weeks to a maximum of 27 weeks, according to the HSE.

Healthcare professionals, GPs, cytology units and politicians have raised concerns about the decision to offer repeat smear tests to the public without allocating additional resources to it.

Oireachtas Health Committee chair Michael Harty, who is also a Clare GP said that “if the offer of out-of-cycle smears was to reassure women, it certainly hasn’t done that… and has undermined people’s confidence in the CervicalCheck programme”.

Previous media reports had indicated before that the spending for repeat smear tests would be around €10 million. Today, the breakdown was confirmed as:

  • Approximately 110,000 consultations at a cost of €5.4m
  • Approximately 59,000 repeat smears taken at a cost of €2.9m
  • A cytology cost of approximately €1.3m.

GPs received €49 from the government as payment for carrying out the free repeat smear tests.

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Committee appearance today

Appearing before PAC today, secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin said that on 11 December, he advised the Committee of costs associated with GP consultation fees and the taking of repeat smear tests associated with this decision.

At that time I advised that the combination of GP consultations, smear taking and laboratory costs were likely to be well within a total estimate of €10 million to year-end.

He also said that the Minister for Health made the decision to provide for a free out-of-cycle smear tests for “any woman who was concerned, where her GP felt she should have a further test as part of her reassurance”.

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