Free repeat smear tests to end as HSE deals with backlog

More than 60,000 women concerned over CervicalCheck scandal awaiting results

Dr Gabriel Scally, who carried out a  scoping enquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening programme earlier this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Dr Gabriel Scally, who carried out a scoping enquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening programme earlier this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The offer of a free repeat smear test for women concerned following the CervicalCheck controversy will come to and end next week as the HSE continues to struggle with a backlog of tests.

The HSE has told The Irish Times that, as of December 9th, there were 86,803 smear test samples still in progress, and not yet reported, compared with approximately 23,000 smear test samples which would normally be in progress at any one time.

Last April, all women of screening age were offered a free repeat screening test with GPs registered with CervicalCheck as the Government attempted to maintain confidence in the service.

The Government was forced to apologise in October after it emerged that there was a backlog of more than 60,000 women who were waiting on the results of their test.

‘Labour-intensive’

A spokesman for the HSE said that between May and October this year, and when compared to the same period in the previous year, “CervicalCheck recorded an increase of over 70,000 smear tests being carried out in what is a skilled, labour-intensive test”.

“This has been caused by three main factors: women availing of out-of-cycle, or repeat, smear tests; a return by many women to the programme who had previously not engaged; and women attending their routine smear test when invited. This upsurge in activity has led to a backlog in the laboratories that carry out the analysis of each smear sample slide,” the spokesman said.

We apologise to patients affected and are doing everything possible to improve this situation

Furthermore, it is still taking more than 20 weeks in some cases to process the tests and return the results.

“The HSE regrets that due to the increased demand in cervical screening from repeat as well as routine tests, we are experiencing significant delays in the reporting of results. Results are currently being reported in approximately 20 weeks of the test being taken. In some cases it is taking 20-plus weeks.

“We apologise to patients affected and are doing everything possible to improve this situation. We are also keeping women informed of the latest waiting times for results by publishing and updating the details on our website.”

Overtime

The HSE said that laboratories have agreed to undertake additional recruitment, and are using overtime and managing annual leave in an effort to address the backlog.

Smear test samples must also be sent to the laboratory and made into slides within six weeks of the smear test date. After this point, the sample expires and cannot be tested.

A spokesman said that from April to October 2018 the rate of expired samples and vials was 0.29 per cent. This represents 503 out of a total of 171,814 samples taken. “This compares with a rate of 0.25 per cent for the same period in 2017,” he said.

“Although every effort is made to avoid these situations from happening, it is inevitable that cervical screening programmes will sometimes encounter these issues. In such cases, a woman and her GP are advised of the need for a repeat test at least three months after their previous test by letter from CervicalCheck.”