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HSE orders 'rapid review' after 800 women failed to receive their smear test

The HSE has made contact with the women to give them their results directly.

Image: Shutterstock/toodtuphoto

Updated Jul 12th 2019, 9:20 PM

THE HSE HAS ordered a “rapid review” after 800 women did not receive their CervicalCheck smear test results because of an IT glitch. 

HSE CEO, Paul Reid, said this evening that “in response to information emerging over recent days, I have decided to commission an immediate rapid review of this incident.”

The HSE earlier apologised and said it is responding to issues with its screening service. 

Health Minister Simon Harris said today that it has contacted a “small number” of these 800 women affected. 

The HSE has made contact with the women to give them their results directly. 

The issue occurred at Quest Diagnostics Chantilly facility in Virginia, USA which currently performs HPV testing for the CervicalCheck service. 

In a statement earlier today, the HSE said that, in addition to the 800 affected women, it is “also aware of a very small number of people affected outside of this recheck group and are following up on those cases as part of our response.”

The women whose repeated questions helped reveal an IT glitch that caused significant delays to women receiving smear test results today earlier criticised the lack of clarity and communication from CervicalCheck, the HSE and the Department of Health. 

Reid has said the review “will examine in detail how the communication process for providing results to women was planned and managed. I want this work to commence quickly and be completed in a timely manner, led by a chairperson external to the HSE.”

“While this review is ongoing, we will continue to update the women involved as planned, and to work with Quest Diagnostics to get to the bottom of what has happened, what needs to be done to resolve these problems.”

RTÉ News first reported yesterday that 800 women were affected by the glitch at the US lab, which left them waiting months for smear test results. 

Speaking in the Seanad today, Harris said the existence of an IT issue “was identified following an engagement by my department in June with the National Training Service based on representations from one individual”. 

‘Rightly apologise’

He said the overwhelming amount of the tests were precautionary tests for women and were primarily repeat HPV tests between 1 October and 25 June. 

Harris said the HSE has identified “a small number of tests affected by this issue that were carried out inside the period described above and has contacted these women directly to communicate their results”.

The HSE has “rightly apologised sincerely for this IT issue and for the confusion and worry it has likely caused to the individuals concerned”, added the minister. 

The Seanad was told that the HSE is “now confident that the IT system in Chantilly laboratory can generate electronic results for women GPs and the HSE is continuing to closely monitor and engage with the lab”.

According to the HSE, CervicalCheck yesterday instructed Quest Diagnostics to “immediately dispatch” all outstanding results from this group of women to their GPs.

“This means that the people affected should either have their results already from their GP, or will be able to get them in the next day or so. CervicalCheck will also follow up with all those people again this week and next week, keeping them informed.”

Speaking today, Dr Colm Henry, HSE Chief Clinical Officer, said “the HSE and CervicalCheck are concerned about this incident and we are working with Quest Diagnostics to add to what is known to date and to fully investigate this issue, with a focus on patient safety and providing information to people affected as soon as it is available.”

“Any delay and inefficiency in the cervical screening service is hugely disappointing for the women involved and for our service, and we apologise to everyone involved and commit to keeping them all informed.”


The HSE has “rightly apologised sincerely for this IT issue and for the confusion and worry it has likely caused to the individuals concerned.”

The minister said the HSE is now confident that the IT system in the Chantilly laboratory can generate electronic results for women.

Harris added that the HSE is continuing to “closely monitor and engage with the lab”.

The minister, who was in the Seanad today to speak during a debate on a Bill to establish the CervicalCheck tribunal, said a lot of progress has been made in dealing with the backlog of smear tests.

He said the backlog would be “effectively gone” by mid-September when the Dáil and Seanad resume after the summer recess.

Speaking to Morning Ireland today the woman, Sharon, said that it took months of calls and queries to get the HSE to acknowledge that an IT glitch had occurred. 

Sharon had been seeking the results of a test from December 2018 when her GP informed her that test results were taking up to 14 weeks to be returned. 

“Basically all I really wanted was to get my results and know that I was okay. So I would have phoned CervicalCheck on a number of occasions but they weren’t able to give me any kind of guarantee when I would get my results or where my results were, so then at early April I would have contacted the Department of Health,” she said. 

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When she eventually received a response from the department at the end of April, there was no acknowledgement of an IT glitch and she was told he delay was “not necessarily dangerous and it was low risk and even if there was cancer, it would possibly take 10 to 15 years to develop”.

It wasn’t until mid-June that Sharon received her results over the phone from a doctor at CervicalCheck, who told her that an IT glitch had caused the delay. 

Her own GP, Sharon said, had received her results earlier in June but was not aware that she had not yet received her results by letter. 

“I obviously saw that there was a huge potential issue that women could have negative results and they would be none the wiser. So I contacted CervicalCheck again myself and asked if it could be raised that there is a major issue here that letters are not being sent to women and could they raise that on my behalf,” Sharon said. 

The Department of Health last night confirmed to TheJournal.ie in a statement:

“The HSE yesterday advised the Department that it became aware in June 2019 that, due to an IT process issue with one Quest Diagnostics laboratory, a number of results letters were not issued to women and/or their GPs.

“The HSE has advised it is working to ensure that all women and GPs are informed of results, and that it expects this process to be complete in the coming days.”

Also speaking to Morning Ireland, Lorraine Walsh, a board member of 221+ group CervicalCheck patient advocacy group, said: ”It is shocking to think that women in Ireland are still not being listened to.”

Walsh was critical of the failure to properly address the delays and put in place “corrective” action. 

“Going forward, it will be better. But it doesn’t give much reassurance to women in Ireland,” she said. 

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said that the situation was “incredibly regrettable”. 

“It is unfortunate that the CervicalCheck programme has been hit with another body blow as a result of an IT system failure.

“The HSE and the Minister must look into this situation and find out how this IT issue arose and if there are more than 800 women affected. They must also ensure that the affected women are informed of this situation and issued with their results as soon as possible.”

With reporting by Christina Finn 

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