Opposition blames Government’s ‘disastrous’ decision for smear test backlog

Introduction of HPV test delayed as more than 80,000 women wait for results

Minister for Health first promised to introduce HPV testing last autumn. Photograph: Tom Honan

Minister for Health first promised to introduce HPV testing last autumn. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Opposition parties have assailed a “disastrous” Government decision to provide free out-of-cycle screening to women concerned about the CervicalCheck controversy last year after TDs were told the resulting backlog stands at almost 80,000.

This is delaying the introduction of new, more accurate HPV testing while inappropriate referrals by GPs to colposcopy clinics have jumped five-fold, the Oireachtas health committee heard yesterday.

Minister for Health Simon Harris first promised to introduce HPV testing last autumn but his officials at the committee were unable to promise it would be implemented this year due to the smear test backlog.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil the Government’s decision had cost €10 million and undermined the screening programme.

His health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, said the decision by Mr Harris had set in train a sequence of events resulting in the current 27-week wait for smear test results, problems with tests that have expired, and the delayed introduction of the HPV test.

Anxiety

Department of Health and HSE officials defended the decision as an appropriate response to anxiety among women while Mr Harris, in the Dáil, said it was supported by his chief medical officer.

The decision resulted in an additional 90,000 smears being carried out last year but the HSE has been unable to source adequate cytology resources worldwide to process them.

The Irish Cancer Society said it was extremely concerned at the number of slides caught in the backlog.

Asked about the risk to women from the delay, clinical director of the HSE’s women and infants health programme, Dr Peter McKenna, said: “It’s not really possible to give an estimate on the number but it would be foolhardy to say there would be no risk, but in general the risk would be low.”