Wednesday 21 August 2019

Cervical test backlog 'cleared by September'

Frustrating: Lorraine Walsh met with officials to discuss the scandal
Frustrating: Lorraine Walsh met with officials to discuss the scandal

Eilish O'Regan and Ralph Riegel

The backlog of CervicalCheck screening tests that built up over the last year has reduced to 40,265 - but some women are still waiting up to 20 weeks for their results.

The backlog, which was as high as 90,000 earlier this year, was linked to the take-up of a free test offered to women outside their normal screening schedule during the CervicalCheck scandal.

In recent months, CervicalCheck agreed a deal with extra labs, run by Quest Diagnostics in the US, to take on additional work in a bid to clear the backlog.

The HSE said there were 10,773 tests to be read in Medlab in Dublin and 2,516 in the Coombe Hospital lab. Quest has another 26,075 tests to be analysed from women in Ireland.

Medlab is focusing entirely on the backlog and not taking on any new work.

"Waiting times are steadily decreasing and the maximum turnaround time is now 20 weeks," said the HSE.

The normal waiting time for results is around a month and a half, but at one stage it was longer than 27 weeks.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Simon Harris said he was committed to the waiting time being back to normal levels by mid-September and noted the backlog was falling by 6,000 a week.

Meanwhile, the CervicalCheck steering committee - which is made up of health officials and patient representatives - met for the first time following the most recent crisis yesterday.

The proceedings were described as frustrating by campaigner Lorraine Walsh.

Ms Walsh, a cervical cancer survivor, and fellow campaigner Stephen Teap, who lost his wife Irene to the disease last year, questioned officials on why CervicalCheck did not go public about the crisis.

The failure to send results letters to 800 women whose tests were screened for the HPV virus in Chantilly lab in Virginia, United States, only emerged last week.

It was apparently caused by a computer glitch at the American testing lab.

Ms Walsh, who said it was an emotional meeting, found little new information emerged but she was reassured that the risk to 52 women in the group who tested positive for the virus was low.

All of the women involved are expected to be have been contacted by today.

Nearly all 52 will have further medical investigations.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday promised the women and next of kin at the centre of last year's scandal that there would be formal apology given in the Dáil.

He said he had already apologised for the failure to disclose an audit of their results on previous occasions but he was working with Mr Harris on an official apology from the floor of the Dáil.

Mr Teap said he was disappointed the apology could not have been made before the summer recess of the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar said he would meet campaigners if necessary.

Irish Independent

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