Tuesday 16 July 2019

CervicalCheck crisis deepens: Officials knew as far back as February of lab 'glitch'

800 women not issued with CervicalCheck results due to technical glitch

Dr Peter McKenna, head of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme. Picture: Collins
Dr Peter McKenna, head of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme. Picture: Collins

Eilish O’Regan

THE latest CervicalCheck crisis deepened today after it emerged that health officials were aware of a computer glitch as far back as February which led to hundreds of women not receiving letters informing them of their cervical screening result.

Dr Peter McKenna, head of the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme said CervicalCheck thought the US lab which conducted the tests was sending  letters manually to the women’s GPs instead

It emerged yesterday this did not happen.

CervicalCheck did not find out until early July that the letters were not being sent out, he said.

The tests for 800 women from Ireland carried out by the Quest lab in Chantilly in Virginia involved screening for the precautionary HPV virus.

The women had previously been found to have low grade abnormalities.

Dr McKenna said today an investigation will now be carried out to find out why the letters were not issued manually to the women from February.

Earlier, Health Minister Simon Harris has described the latest CervicalCheck controversy as one of “great frustration, annoyance and worry” for women.

He was speaking after it emerged that around 800 women did not receive letters telling them of their cervical screening result between October and June due to a computer glitch at the Quest lab in Chantilly in Virginia, United States.

The HSE said that although most of the women’s GPs received the results electronically, the separate letters each individual woman should have been sent did not issue.

Speaking in the Seanad today Health Minister Simon Harris said the  HSE has contacted a “small number” of the 800 women involved .

GPs are  getting the  test results – which were repeat tests screened for the HPV virus - by letter today in the majority of cases, he said.

He believed this should have been done sooner given the issue came to light in June.

“The existence of an IT issue was identified following an engagement by my department in June with the National Training Service based on representations from one individual.”

It was only due to the persistence of one woman, known as Sharon, who did not receive her letter for nine months that CervicalCheck found out about the glitch.After several calls to CervicalCheck and the Department of Health she was eventually told on June 26 about the glitch after receiving a call from a CervicalCheck doctor.

She went for her cervical screening test in December 2018 and expected to get the results in six weeks.

Mr Harris said most of these tests were “precautionary tests” for women who had a low or very low risk and were carried out to reassure women and that their original results were unlikely to change.

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