HSE to visit Quest in US to examine cervical smear labs

If contracts are signed, backlog of smear tests could be cleared by end of the summer

 Minister for Health Simon Harris has come under political pressure for the decision to offer free smear tests in the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy last year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Health Simon Harris has come under political pressure for the decision to offer free smear tests in the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy last year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Senior HSE officials are expected to visit Quest labs in the US in the coming days to examine extra laboratories where cervical smear tests will be sent in a bid to clear a growing backlog.

If the HSE is satisfied with the quality of the labs, it is expected that contracts could be signed by the end of the month. Most new tests would then be sent to the lab to allow Irish labs to clear the backlog. According to estimates, senior figures believe it could be cleared by the end of the summer.

It emerged last week that nearly 80,000 women are being forced to wait up to 33 weeks to receive the results of their smears with the backlog emerging partly because of the decision to offer free smear tests in the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy last year.

Former clinical director of CervicalCheck, Gráinne Flannelly, warned against the move in the hours before the announcement. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former clinical director of CervicalCheck, Gráinne Flannelly, warned against the move to offer free smear tests in the hours before the announcement. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has come under political pressure for the decision after it emerged that the former clinical director of CervicalCheck, Gráinne Flannelly, warned against the move in the hours before the announcement.

Mr Harris is due to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday where he will be questioned on his decision to offer free smear tests.

It is understood that committee members will seek access to all documentation and advice given to Mr Harris both before and after the announcement was made on April 28th, 2018.

Email

This includes an email sent by the National Screening Service on the day that Mr Harris made the announcement. It sets out concerns which relate to uncertainty about costs, volume, impact on turnaround times, impact on perceptions of the programme’s accuracy, challenges with processing GP payments, and the potential difficulty in ceasing the arrangements in due course.

The department has to date refused to publish the email. A spokeswoman said its release was being considered under freedom of information laws.

On the same day, in the hours before the plan was announced, Dr Flannelly said she warned against offering the plan and expressed concern that labs would not be able to cope.

She warned that general practitioners would not be able to be paid for this service as there was no mechanism for payment of out-of-programme tests.

She said laboratories would not have sufficient capacity, and that they already had issues with recruitment and retention of cytologists given the proposed move to HPV screening.