TD among 80,000 women in CervicalCheck backlog ‘utter mess’

Lisa Chambers criticises inviting of women for smear tests in context of looming delay

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers: “Are you still writing out to people on the backlog to come in because you haven’t cross-checked who they are?” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers: “Are you still writing out to people on the backlog to come in because you haven’t cross-checked who they are?” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A Fianna Fáil TD has described the backlog in the CervicalCheck programme as an “utter mess” after revealing she is one of 80,000 women affected.

Mayo TD Lisa Chambers also said that after waiting months for her results she received a letter from CervicalCheck asking her to attend for a routine screening.

“Are you still writing out to people on the backlog to come in because you haven’t cross-checked who they are? That’s probably adding to the backlog,” she told Health Service Executive officials at the Oireachtas health committee on Wednesday.

“Why on earth would be you be writing out to women already in the system asking them to come in for a smear test today, knowing you won’t get a result back for eight months. It’s utter madness.”

Waiting times for the results of smear tests in the programme have soared to a maximum of 33 weeks, officials told the committee.

Out-of-cycle smears

Interim national director of the screening service Damien McCallion said about two-thirds of the 80,000 backlog of tests were attributable to the decision to offer free out-of-cycle smears, and one-third was down to “new women” seeking screening last year.

Ms Chambers said she was just one of the women caught in the current backlog but she should not be waiting so long. She said she went for a test last October. “I have a particular history. I should not be waiting.”

In January, she said she received the letter inviting her for a routine smear, with no reference to the fact that she was awaiting the result of a previous test.

“Nobody should be getting the routine letter I received last January. If you weren’t aware of it, you should have been aware of it,” she told Mr McCallion, adding that women were upset and anxious about the delays and this had been compounded by a lack of leadership.

Committee chairman Dr Michael Harty had earlier suggested the screening programme pause its processing of in-cycle tests for a few months to allow the backlog to be cleared.

Suspension of process

He said the normal three- or five-year cycle for taking smears in the programme could be suspended for a few months to facilitate the backlog being cleared. This would provide a more rapid solution than searching for extra capacity or developing capacity in the Coombe, which was going to take some time.

Ms Chambers said ”serious consideration” should be given to this suggestion, otherwise it could take five to 10 years to clear the backlog.

He said there had been significant improvement in the turnaround times for processing slides at two of the three labs used by the programme.

In the Coombe hospital, the turnaround was three weeks and with Quest Diagnostics, it was seven weeks. However, with Medlab Pathology, which processes 45 per cent of slides, it was 33 weeks.

Mr McCallion said officials had “trawled the world” to source additional capacity and was in the middle of “complex negotiations to nail this down”.

Dr Harty said this option was not being dismissed but, at the moment, the preference in the programme was to secure extra capacity to deal with the backlog.

In relation to the recall of thousands of women after their HPV tests expired, Mr McCallion said 800 of these retests had been returned and the rest of the 2,500 were expected from the lab, Quest Diagnostics, within two weeks.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith questioned whether the figure of 221 women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal could be larger. She said the result of cancelling the audit last April was that the true figure of those affected could be much larger.