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Donnelly 'disappointed' about CervicalCheck samples being tested in US labs

The National Cervical Screening Laboratory at the Coombe Hospital had its accreditation suspended.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said he is “disappointed” that CervicalCheck samples are to be tested by a US provider after the National Cervical Screening Laboratory at Coombe Hospital had its accreditation suspended this week due to “administrative delays”. 

Speaking to reporters in Mullingar this morning, the health minister said “it is frustrating what has happened”. 

He said he spoke to Dr Cillian De Gascun, the interim director of the lab this morning, and was informed that the issues identified “critically” were not about the quality of the work going on.

“They were more about governance and compliance around governance and looking to quality controls around that,” he said.

“Dr De Gascon tells me that the required changes can be made in a matter of weeks. And then obviously, we will want the certification team in there as quickly as possible.” said the minister.

Donnelly added that he wants the changes that are needed in terms of paperwork and planning done in a matter of days, with the certification team brought back in very quickly.

The minister said the issues were just a “teething problem” with the set up of the new laboratory, stating that this is not something that should be seen happening on an ongoing basis.

“It is to do with starting up a new service from scratch. And I am assured that the issues will be resolved quickly,” he said. 

Donnelly said he hopes this this will not set back the progress of moving towards having all smear tests samples being reviewed in Ireland. With the Coombe lab suspension, all smear tests are now being sent to the US for review.

“I hope this doesn’t set back to progress at all because the only thing really determining the progress is the pace at which the HSE can train these highly, highly skilled people who need to work in the labs, can train them up, and can get them hired in,” Donnelly said. 

He added that this setback with the lab shouldn’t have any impact on “the goal of having nearly all samples processed by that lab within about five years”. 

Donnelly said the Government doesn’t want to do 100%  of samples in the country, stating that a small number will be sent to an international lab to check against quality controls.


Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson, David Cullinane said the issues were avoidable and demonstrate the need for greater investment in domestic screening laboratories.

“Avoidable blunders have delayed the repatriation of 10% of cervical screening tests, which is a blow for patients and the health service.

“This is not a reflection on the quality of screening in Ireland – the screening service operates to the highest standards. The issue here is an administrative failure, which is highly disappointing,” he added.

Cullinane said it is vital that women and people continue to participate in cancer screening programmes.

“The consequence of the indefinite closure, until the lab is properly accredited, is that samples will continue to be sent abroad due to the lack of domestic laboratory capacity.

“Repatriation of the majority of Cervical Check screening needs to be a political priority, and a priority for the health service. Investment in lab capacity, across the board, is needed to increase patient safety, and to improve the functioning and performance of the health service,” he said.

The Coombe lab accreditation must be given the highest priority, said the TD, stating that it must be reopened as soon as possible.

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