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Women with history of abnormal smears face 'anxious wait' for delayed results

There is no provision for expediting cases where there is a known history of cancer or abnormal smear results.

Normal squamous epithelial cells of cervical woman on white background view in microscopy.
Normal squamous epithelial cells of cervical woman on white background view in microscopy.
Image: Shutterstock/Komsan Loonprom

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.

This has meant that these women are “anxious” and “worried” due to the prolonged wait for their results, the Minister for Health has been told.

There’s currently a 22-week wait for smear test results; this compares with a 2-4 week wait before the surge caused by the offer of free smear retests, which were announced as part of the response to the CervicalCheck controversy. 

In October, the Minister for Health Simon Harris was warned by officials that the delay in issuing results was “intensifying concern” among women.

Of those women who wrote to the Minister between April and December about delays, a large number had received abnormal smear test results before, or who had undergone treatment for abnormalities. 

One woman wrote that she “hoped CervicalCheck is screening women like me who haven’t had a smear in years before those that are having a smear to double-check”.

Another woman wrote to say that women like her, who had a history of cell changes, had to “wait anxiously” for their delayed results.

The Minister was also made aware of a woman in Cork who had received inconclusive smear test results previously. In the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy, she decided to avail of another test.

In October, 17 weeks after her smear test, she received the results which found that abnormalities had been detected, according to a letter to the Minister.

It said that her GP advised her to make another appointment, but said that she faces another 17-week wait for those results. 

“Essentially, that’s an eight-month turnaround for a woman with a known history of abnormalities,” the Minister was told.

The minister was asked if there was a way of expediting cases where there is a known history of cancer or abnormal smear results.

When asked about the case, the HSE said that it doesn’t comment on individual cases.

Smear test delays

Currently, the CervicalCheck programme is experiencing a significant increase in smear tests being processed.

This increase came after Harris announced that from 1 May 2018, women who had availed of a CervicalCheck smear test were able to get a second test free of charge to alleviate concerns women had about the results they had received.

In June, two months after the announcement of free repeat smear tests, the CEO of the company that runs the Sandyford lab, which examines 50% of cervical smears, wrote to Harris to warn him that demand had increased fivefold, and was putting the CervicalCheck programme “in jeopardy”. 

In October, a gynaecologist in the Mid-West wrote to Harris to warn him of the pressure the health system was under, saying that there had been a delayed diagnosis in their colposcopy unit due to the surge in demand caused by the free repeat smear tests. 

Last night, the HSE said that around 82,000 smear tests are still currently being processed by laboratories; this compares with a previous figure of 23,000 at any given time before the CervicalCheck controversy.

Cervical Check processes about 250,000 cervical screening tests each year; in 2018, an additional 84,000 women came forward for screening.

This increased demand has caused some smear test samples to expire. Last night, the HSE confirmed to that 1,000 smear tests expired due to the CervicalCheck backlog, and that the women affected needed to be retested.

This is separate to the announcement earlier today that 6,000 smear test samples had to be repeated due to the samples expiring.

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