‘Rapid review’ ordered after glitch leaves 800 women without CervicalCheck results

HSE says it became aware of an IT issue at US laboratory analysing tests in February

A cervical cancer cell

A cervical cancer cell

 

The HSE’s chief executive, Paul Reid, has ordered a “rapid review” into how cervical screening test results were either delayed for or not issued to 800 women and their GPs.

The HSE said on Friday it had become aware in February of an IT issue at a US laboratory which led to the women not receiving the test results electronically.

However, it said it had been assured that the laboratory would send them the results by letter instead, and only discovered subsequently that this hadn’t been happening.

The problem occurred at a Quest Diagnostics laboratory in Chantilly, Virginia. The HSE only became aware of the issue after a patient contacted the Department of Health in relation to her missing results.

Mr Reid said the review would look in detail at how the communication process for providing results to the women was planned and managed.

“While this review is ongoing, we will continue to update the women involved as planned, and to work with Quest Diagnostics to get to the bottom of what has happened, what needs to be done to resolve these problems,” he said.

Details of the chairperson of the review and terms of reference will be made available early next week, the HSE said.

There was deep unhappiness and frustration in the Department of Health at the latest controversy surrounding CervicalCheck, the country’s cervical screening programme, according to informed sources.

Sources said the cervical screening issue was one of the most important considerations for the department and it had weekly, if not more frequent, contact with the HSE about it.

However, sources in the department said it was only alerted to the magnitude of the issue about delays in issuing results to women on Wednesday.

‘Very disappointed’

Dr Peter McKenna, clinical director of the HSE’s women and children programme, said on Friday the HSE had become aware in February of the “computer glitch” that meant test results could not be sent electronically. He said the US laboratory pledged that letters would be posted instead. It was only earlier this month that they found out that this had not been happening, he said, adding that the HSE had been “very disappointed” by this discovery.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer and who is one of two patient representatives on the CervicalCheck steering committee, said he was only told of the latest “disaster” 45 minutes prior to a report on the issue on RTÉ on Thursday.

“It’s an absolute disgrace,” he said. “The cynic in me believes that the information was withheld from the patient representatives.”

It was his understanding that the computer system sent letters out to both the women and their GPs, but that when the laboratory agreed to send letters out manually, they were only sent to the women’s doctors. The doctors, however, were not told the women had not received separate notification.

It seemed “no lessons have been learned” in relation to keeping patients informed, he said.