Women face back log on smear tests

Chaos reigns as thou­sands wait­ing up to 15 weeks for their re­sults

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Ni­cola Byrne ni­cola.byrne@mailon­sun­day.ie

WOMEN are now wait­ing up to 15 weeks for the re­sults of a cer­vi­cal test be­cause Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris has of­fered free retests, it emerged yes­ter­day.

And de­spite the HSE con­firm­ing this fig­ure on Fri­day to the MoS, the Depart­ment of Health yes­ter­day ini­tially at­tempted to sug­gest the de­lay was only up to 12 weeks.

At the height of the Cer­vi­cal Check cri­sis, Min­is­ter Har­ris of­fered any woman con­cerned by the scan­dal the chance to take an ex­tra test.

The HSE con­firmed this week­end an ex­tra 32,000 women took smear tests in the May to July pe­riod af­ter he made the of­fer – a rise of al­most a third on the same pe­riod last year.

And a source in the Cer­vi­calCheck pro­gramme says that fig­ure is now likely to rise to be­tween 70,000 and 80,000 be­fore De­cem­ber 31 when the of­fer runs out – heap­ing pres­sure on an al­ready over­loaded sys­tem.

It’s led to con­cerns that hun­dreds

Hun­dreds of tests will have to be re­taken

of women may have to have their tests re­taken, as they will be out of date by the time they reach a lab.

This fol­lows rev­e­la­tions that sev­eral hun­dred smear tests sam­ples went out of date this year due to the mas­sive back­log cre­ated in the wake of the cer­vi­cal check scan­dal.

‘I don’t think any­one pre­dicted that we’d get an up­take like this on the free of­fer,’ said the Cer­vi­calCheck source. ‘It just shows how wor­ried women are.’

Some 110 tests taken in July this year ex­pired be­cause they were not pro­cessed by a lab­o­ra­tory in time. Be­tween April and July this year, 330 sam­ples and vials ex­pired com­pared with 242 in 2017, a rise of 36%.

Labour’s Health spokesman Alan Kelly has called on Min­is­ter Har­ris and the HSE to con­firm that all smears car­ried out since July will be pro­cessed as soon as pos­si­ble.

‘It is un­ac­cept­able that 110 smear tests could not be read in July be­cause of this back­log. This type of carry-on does noth­ing to help re­store con­fi­dence in Cer­vi­cal Check.’

A HSE spokes­woman ad­mit­ted women can ex­pect big de­lays in get­ting their smear test re­sults.

‘Due to in­creased de­mand for re­peat cer­vi­cal screen­ing tests, there is a de­lay in pro­vid­ing re­sults of all smear tests,’ she said. ‘This is for both re­peat smear tests and rou­tine tests. In the past, you would get your smear test re­sult within four to six weeks of your test. Cur­rently, it may take up to 15 weeks from the time you have your smear test un­til you get your re­sults. We are sorry for this de­lay. We are work­ing to re­duce these wait­ing times.’

But de­spite the HSE be­ing forth­com­ing about the iss­sue, when the MoS asked the Depart­ment of Health if they and the Min­is­ter were aware of the de­lays, and what he was do­ing about it, a spokes­woman is­sued a dif­fer­ent, and lower, fig­ure. ‘The HSE has re­ported that lab ac­tiv­ity, which had risen as a con­se­quence both of out-of-cy­cle smears and in­creased up­take, gen­er­ally re­mains above nor­mal lev­els. The Cer­vi­calCheck web­site pro­vides in­for­ma­tion for women about these de­lays.

‘Cer­vi­calCheck ad­vises that nor­mally, a smear test re­sult would be re­ceived within four to six weeks of a test. Cur­rently, re­sults may take up to 12 weeks, but in some cases this may take longer. Cer­vi­calCheck has as­sured the Min­is­ter that it is pri­ori­tis­ing the re­duc­tion of this de­lay.

‘The Cer­vi­calCheck Steer­ing Com­mit­tee which was es­tab­lished in June by the Min­is­ter re­ports to him weekly, in­clud­ing on this is­sue. These re­ports are pub­lished on the Depart­ment of Health web­site.’

Asked di­rectly if the lower fig­ure was an at­tempt by the Depart­ment to down­play the de­lays, the same spokes­woman ac­cepted that the Depart­ment’s fig­ure was wrong.

‘The Depart­ment is in no way seek­ing to down­play this mat­ter, as is ev­i­dent from the fact that it di­rected the jour­nal­ist to the Cer­vi­cakCheck web­site.

‘The in­for­ma­tion on that web­site re­gard­ing turn­around times for smear tests can be taken to be the po­si­tion. The Cer­vi­calCheck Steer­ing Com­mit­tee es­tab­lished by the Min­is­ter is ac­tively over­see­ing all Cer­vi­calCheck is­sues.’

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