Wednesday 21 August 2019

At least 26 women in 'IT glitch' screening crisis to undergo further tests

Health Minister Simon Harris is facing criticism. Picture: Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris is facing criticism. Picture: Collins

Allison Bray and Eilish O'Regan

At least 26 of the women at the centre of the latest CervicalCheck "computer glitch" crisis have had to be sent for further investigation after testing positive for the HPV virus, it emerged yesterday.

The revelation that a significant number of the original 800 women - whose tests were sent to the Chantilly lab operated by Quest Diagnostics in Virginia in the US - needed further medical examination was only made public by CervicalCheck yesterday.

It said 52 women in all who were screened for HPV were found to be positive for the virus and "over half were sent for further investigation".

CervicalCheck claims the GPs of this group of 52 women received their test results in February.

But a separate letter which should have gone to each of the women was not sent.

All the other women were given the all-clear.

CervicalCheck blamed a computer glitch at the Chantilly lab between October and June for the failure to issue letters with results to the women.

The group of 800 women, who had been found to have low level abnormalities, had their smear tests re-screened for the HPV virus because the original test kit was out of date.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said in terms of "clinical risk the women affected had shown low-grade changes which is at a very low risk of progression".

The HPV virus does not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause cancer.

CervicalCheck said it is currently confirming directly with GPs that all the women's results have been discussed with them.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris, Department of Health officials and the HSE remained under fire for the delays in informing women about the computer defect in the US which led to a failure to send out result letters in the normal manner.

Mr Harris said he was not informed about the computer flaw until last Wednesday. But CervicalCheck and the HSE knew of it in February.

It was only the persistence of one of the women, 'Sharon', who contacted the minister's office, the Department of Health and CervicalCheck that the full extent of the crisis came to light.

The minister's private secretary replied to Sharon on June 6. However, Mr Harris said she was not the only woman contacting his department about the delay in test results linked to the backlog.

It would not necessarily sound an alarm bell that there was a wider problem, he said.

The Department of Health became aware of the computer issue on June 25 and received a HSE report last week.

The failure of communication is now being examined in a HSE-commissioned review, chaired by DCU resident Prof Brian MacCraith.

Following criticism that it is not independent due to having HSE staff servicing the review, he insisted: "The review is independent and is being carried out solely by me. Otherwise I would not have agreed to take on this role."

He said in order to conduct it as quickly as possible he needed to be supported by a number of HSE staff.

Prof MacCraith will have access to any external expert advice he might require.

He said he has spoken to Sharon and he will meet with other patients this week, promising to keep them informed.

He also spoke to patient representatives Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap.

The report will be published in August.

Irish Independent

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