Technology glitch - ‘All I wanted to get was my CervicalCheck results’

Women who uncovered tech issue told decision had been made not to issue letters

Frances McNamara, head of the National Screening Service, said CervicalCheck wrote to the women affected on July 1st and advised them to contact their GP to receive their results.

Frances McNamara, head of the National Screening Service, said CervicalCheck wrote to the women affected on July 1st and advised them to contact their GP to receive their results.

 

A woman, whose queries uncovered an “IT glitch” which left hundreds of women without results from their cervical screening tests, has told how she sought to get her results for months.

The HSE confirmed on Thursday about 800 women did not receive their CervicalCheck smear test results because of an IT glitch.

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

The woman, called Sharon, said she went for her cervical screening test in December 2018 and expected to get the results six weeks later as she “usually” did. Sharon said she started to query her GP in February about the results who advised her it could take up to 14 weeks because of a backlog in the system.

“Basically all I really wanted to get was my results and know that I was okay,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Friday.

“I would have phoned CervicalCheck on a number of occasions but they weren’t able to give me any kind of guarantee when I would get my results or where my results were.”

Response

Sharon said she contacted the Department of Health a number of times in early April and got a response at the end of the month advising her there was a delay due to free tests being offered to women last year, following the CervicalCheck controversy.

“They [the department] did say in writing to me that the delay wasn’t necessarily dangerous and it was low risk and even if there was cancer, it would possibly take 10 to 15 years to develop,” she said.

Sharon said on June 26th she got a call from a senior doctor in CervicalCheck who gave her her results and told her “there had been some type of an IT glitch and a decision was made not to send letters to women”.

Sharon said she contacted her GP the following day who told her that he had received her results days previously but he was unaware she hadn’t received a letter directly from CervicalCheck.

“When I found out from my own doctor... they weren’t advised that women weren’t getting the letters, I obviously saw a huge potential issue that women could have negative results and they would be none the wiser,” she said.

Sharon said she contacted CervicalCheck to raise her concerns and also decided to go for a private cervical screening test, the results of which she expects in two weeks.

Cervical cancer patient and campaigner Lorraine Walsh said she “couldn’t get over” the amount of times Sharon had contacted CervicalCheck, the Department of Health and the HSE.

“It’s shocking to think that women in Ireland are still not being listened to...it’s terrible,” she said.

‘Corrective action’

“I know this is an IT issue and I think we all know that IT issues happen, my concern is that the corrective action wasn’t put in place, the appropriate corrective action in relation to communicating this.

“Shockingly, this was not communicated to the GPs, so the letters were being sent to the GPs but weren’t being told the women weren’t being contacted.”

In a statement, the HSE said that IT updates had been required at the US facility to ensure results letters were issued to women and reports of results were issued to women’s GPs.

“As a result of slower than expected implementation of this update, approximately 800 results letters were not issued to women. The existence of an IT issue was identified following engagement with the Department of Health in relation to representations from a woman using our services.”

Frances McNamara, head of the National Screening Service, said CervicalCheck wrote to the women affected on July 1st and advised them to contact their GP to receive their results.

“CervicalCheck sincerely apologises for this delay, which we understand may have caused considerable anxiety for some women,” she said.