The average wait time for CervicalCheck results has now been reduced to six weeks with turnaround times at one point taking up to six months, the HSE has said.
Damian McCallion, interim national director of the HSE’s national screening service said over 81,000 backlogged slides have been “largely eliminated”, with 23,000 slides normally in the screening process “at all times”.
Mr McCallion was before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday to provide an update on the CervicalCheck screening programme alongside officials from the Department of Health and the Irish National Accreditation Board.
Around 370,000 women presented for smear tests last year, an increase from 280,000 in 2017.
The HSE said colposcopy services remain “under pressure with increased referrals and the requirement for increased consultation time”.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, clinical director of the CervicalCheck programme told the committee if a woman had gotten a private smear test they can be referred to a public clinic for a colposcopy.
Lapse in procedure
The Irish National Accreditation Board said a “procedural lapse” arose in relation to a laboratory in Manchester, which was part of MedLab Pathology based in Dublin.
The existence of a laboratory in Salford was revealed by Dr Gabriel Scally in a report published in June, who said the circumstances surrounding the screening of Irish women's slides in the unit was "particularly surprising and disturbing".
Dr Adrienne Duff, programme manager of the INAB, said the Manchester laboratory was under the direct control of MedLab Pathology, which was accredited in 2011.
In November 2016, MedLab Pathology contacted INAB by email proposing to hire a cytoscreener and to locate that person at their laboratory in Manchester.
INAB informed MedLab by email that in principle such a proposal would “potentially be acceptable” and the matter was not subsequently raised directly again by MedLab with the board.
An internal review by the INAB found “a more specific, direct and robust level of communication” should have taken place between the body and MedLab Pathology from the outset.
“It is clearly our responsibility to ensure that all applicants for accreditation and accredited bodies keep us fully and clearly informed about proposals to modify or extend their accredited activities so that these proposals can be scrutinised as fully as is necessary before being implemented,” INAB said.
“We immediately put in place procedures to rule out any further such occurrence arising. This includes scrutiny of the exact locations of any personnel within organisations seeking accreditation, implementation of new technology to track all such matters throughout our system and checks and balances to monitor our own systems and staff.”
The committee also heard a review of the CervicalCheck programme by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) is currently transferring the individual reports of the 1,074 women who consented to participate to the HSE “for dissemination to women and their families”.
“The dissemination of reports is commencing on a phased basis in the coming weeks. We expect this process to take up until the end of 2019 in order for all results to be provided and meetings to be held, where requested by the women and their families,” the HSE said.