CervicalCheck fears led to 43,690 GP visits in 10 weeks
The extent of fear generated by the CervicalCheck scandal is revealed in new figures showing 43,690 women attended their GPs in the space of just 10 weeks to get a smear test.
The surge in consultations followed the decision to allow any woman to have a free smear test outside their normal schedule.
Tens of thousands of women were concerned about the accuracy of test results and sought reassurance.
It followed the revelations arising from the case of Vicky Phelan, the Limerick mother of two who has cervical cancer after getting a wrong smear test result.
GPs are paid €50 for a consultation with women and €49 to carry out a repeat smear test.
The HSE confirmed it has received 43,690 claims for fees from GPs in the course of 10 weeks.
The HSE said that demand for the tests is now back to normal levels.
However, the rise in demands led to greater pressure on the labs used by CervicalCheck, where the slides are read.
It meant that the return of results was delayed.
The target turnaround time for results is normally 17 days, but it was extended to an average of 39 days before women got back their reading.
Actions which are now under way include improving the information given to women by the end of August about the limitations of tests and why some abnormalities may be missed.
This information should be given to all women on the screening invitation and in the information sheet accompanying their consent form.
The consent form should also state that a woman will be guaranteed full and open access to her cervical screening record on request.
The recruitment of a new clinical director for CervicalCheck to permanently replace Dr Gráinne Flannelly, who resigned, is still ongoing.
A clinical lead, who has expertise in HPV testing, also has to be found to oversee its introduction in labs used by CervicalCheck.
HPV testing should lead to fewer women having their abnormalities missed.
The original timeline was to have it in place by October.
But this is now unlikely to be met as an external review of lab results gets under way.
In the meantime, standard screening will continue.