Overcrowded clinics lead to delays for women needing cervical tests

Women referred for further investigation after getting an abnormal cervical screening result are not being seen within the recommended time because hospital clinics are overcrowded, health officials have said.

The clinics carry out colposcopy examinations on women who have abnormal cells.

It comes as officials from CervicalCheck confirmed that the turnaround time for smear test results is now largely back to normal and they are being returned to women in around six weeks, having cleared the worst of the backlog.

However, there are delays for women whose smear test results require further follow-on investigation, the Oireachtas Health Committee was told.

Dr Peter McKenna said part of the reason for the pressure was that many women who had not been referred directly arising out of a test result – but had symptoms that need to be checked – were being inappropriately sent to the clinics.

They now account for between 35pc to 40pc of the clinics’ patients, up from 5pc to 10pc, but the plan is to divert them to another service to ease the pressure on clinics.

CervicalCheck confirmed that a circular has now been sent saying women who undergo a private smear test and need further examination can be seen in one of the public colposcopy clinics.

The issue was raised by Kerry Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil who said one of his constituents was turned down by a public clinic after getting a private test.

She received a message at 10pm that she would be accepted at the public clinic, a move he described as “crass”.

The hope is to introduce HPV testing as the primary laboratory screening method early next year.

Planning permission to extend the Coombe Laboratory in Dublin, where around 10pc of tests are read, is to be submitted this week and this will mean less reliance on facilities in the United States.

The expectation is that around 40pc to 50pc of CervicalCheck tests will be processed in the Coombe in the next 18 months.

Commenting on the results of the independent look-back review of the slides of more than 1,000 women who developed cancer, Dr McKenna said it was expected the number whose test results would be found to be different to the original was expected to be substantially below 40pc.

They are currently being given to women and next of kin and this was likely to take some months.

Asked why it took so long to provide a proper response to ‘Sharon’, who helped expose the laboratory computer glitch that led her, and thousands of women, to receive delayed test results, the acting head of screening services Damian McCallion said lessons needed to be learned from the case going forward.

Committee chairman Michael Harty TD asked why no action had been taken by the Department of Health or CervicalCheck for months despite ‘Sharon’ highlighting the delays.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said the generic letter sent to her was akin to “fobbing” her off.

Meanwhile, officials from the Irish National Accreditation Board admitted that they were unaware tests were sent to a lab in Manchester until the Scally investigation.

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