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CervicalCheck support group says smear test delays are 'totally unacceptable'

Women are having to wait an average of 22 weeks to receive their results, and thousands of tests need to be redone.

Vicky Phelan,who was affected by the CervicalCheck controversy and is on the 221+ steering committee, speaking at FemFest in Dublin earlier this month.
Vicky Phelan,who was affected by the CervicalCheck controversy and is on the 221+ steering committee, speaking at FemFest in Dublin earlier this month.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE ADVOCACY GROUP representing women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, 221+, has said women having to wait an average of 22 weeks to receive their smear test results is ”totally unacceptable”.

The group also said the fact thousands of smear tests need to be repeated “raises questions about the capacity of our health services to respond effectively to women’s health issues”.

The HSE yesterday confirmed that 1,000 smear tests expired due to the CervicalCheck backlog, and that the women affected needed to be retested.

These samples expired after smears were not transferred onto laboratory slides within the six-week timeframe. This was caused by a “high demand on resources” in laboratories as a result of the free repeat smear tests announced last year.

In 2018, an additional 84,000 women came forward for screening, due to what the HSE described as “understandable concerns about cervical screening”.

Almost 350,000 screening tests were submitted last year, and about 82,000 of these are still being processed by laboratories. This compares with 23,000 tests before the controversy.

The 1,000 figure is separate to the announcement earlier yesterday that 6,000 smear test samples will have to be repeated due to some samples held by US laboratory Quest Diagnostics expiring.

These 6,000 smear tests will need to be repeated in relation to an error in the second part of the smear test examination, which is carried out if abnormalities are identified. It’s recommended that this testing is done within a 30-day window, but it was discovered that this didn’t happen in 6,000 cases.

The HSE was notified of the error in November; the Dáil was told yesterday that the 6,000 women affected would be notified next week.

The 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group welcomed the HSE’s “clarification” in relation to the repeat tests, but said the current situation “must be addressed as a matter of urgency”.

Today, this website reported that there is no provision for women with a history of cancer or smear abnormalities to get their CervicalCheck results sooner than those attending their standard smear or a repeat smear test.

‘Totally unacceptable’ 

In a statement, the 221+ group said the fact that women are receiving the results of their smear tests, on average, within 22 weeks of the test (instead of the pre-controversy two to four-week timeframe) is “totally unacceptable”.

“We appreciate that an additional 84,000 women came forward for screening in 2018, as a direct outcome of concerns about the CervicalCheck audit.

However, the capacity must be found as a matter of urgency to clear the present delays and the backlog. It is important that the repeat testing now required on 1,000 of those tests is done without delay.

The group said, while “it is to be welcomed that the HSE has communicated openly on these two issues, it still raises questions about the capacity of our health services to respond effectively to women’s health issues”.

221+ stated that the 50 “well-considered recommendations” included in Dr Gabriel Scally’s report into the CervicalCheck controversy “must now be implemented to a specific timeframe, so that the deeply concerning issues that have emerged around women’s healthcare in the past 10 months can be tackled and resolved”.

“We again urge women to avail of the cervical smear test; this test does save lives,” the group added.

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Órla Ryan

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