Women face back log on smear tests
Chaos reigns as thousands waiting up to 15 weeks for their results
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of women may have to have their tests retaken, as they will be out of date by the time they reach a lab.
This follows revelations that several hundred smear tests samples went out of date this year due to the massive backlog created in the wake of the cervical check scandal.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.’