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Wait times for smear test results from Cervical Check reduced to six weeks

Patients were told they would be waiting up to six months earlier this year.

Image: Shutterstock

THE HSE HAS confirmed the turnaround time for smear test results has been reduced to six weeks after a backlog of 80,000 tests had left some women waiting more than six months. 

At a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health this morning, Damien McCallion, national director of the National Screening Service said the HSE consulted with existing providers, and private and public service providers in other countries, to increase testing capacity. 

“The number of slides in the backlog was at approximately 81,346 which has largely been eliminated. We would normally expect that approximately 23,000 slides would be in the screening process at all times,” he said.

“The turnaround times for reporting of results were at one point taking up to six months and these have now reduced to an average of six weeks. We hope to sustain the turnaround times at this level going forward.”

The number of women presenting for smear tests under the programme was around 280,000 in 2017, but in 2018, this jumped to 370,000 as women attended retests following inconsistencies in some test results. 

Women who were referred for colposcopies following these tests were then told they would have to wait months for an appointment as a result of the backlog, prompting many at the time to attend private consultations at their own expense, instead of waiting months under the HSE’s public system. 

Health Minister Simon Harris had been warned that offering free repeat smear tests was “dangerous” and put the Cervical Check programme at risk.

The HSE then sought to find resources which could be used to alleviate the backlog and reduce the waiting time to the normal waiting period. 

In June, Quest Diagnostics, the US company which already handled 45% of the slides from the Cervical Check programme, reached an agreement with the HSE to take on another 45% of the slides in a bid to clear the backlog.

Private

At the height of the backlog, the HSE advised colposcopy clinics that they should work to eliminate the backlog of public patients. That raised concerns that private patient consultations were being delayed as a result. 

Dr Lorraine Doherty, clinical director of the National Screening Service told the committee this morning that clinics were not ordered to stop seeing private patients but were asked to prioritise public patients.

“If a woman decides to go to her GP and have an independent private smear, we have no knowledge of that individual. That woman does not appear on our records,” she said. 

She added that all patients who go for a private smear can choose to be referred to a colposcopy clinic under the public system by their GP.

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