Thursday 17 October 2019

Computers blamed for smear results delay

More than 2,300 women await the outcome of retests HSE promised would be prioritised

‘Not good enough’: Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly. Picture: Collins
‘Not good enough’: Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly. Picture: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Problems setting up a computer system have been blamed for the delay in carrying out repeat cervical screening of more than 2,300 women who were invited to a retest by CervicalCheck and promised a quick result.

In February, 4,459 women were written to by CervicalCheck after it emerged that Quest Diagnostics, the United States-based lab carrying out cervical screening, was using the wrong protocol for three years to re-examine slides after they showed low-grade abnormalities.

It was applying a HPV virus test on samples from the time they arrived in the lab, instead of from the time they were taken, over a number of years.

The HSE said the risk to women was very low and the invitation to avail of a retest was precautionary.

In February, the promise was that these retests were to be prioritised and the women would have them processed in four weeks.

However, the HSE confirmed yesterday that just 200 results have been reported to date.

Since February 8 last, some 2,572 women who availed of the repeat smear test offer had their slides sent incrementally to the Quest Diagnostics lab in the US.

The slow rate of return has been blamed on the delay in establishing the computer system needed.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said this was taking longer than anticipated.

"Quest are confident that remaining results will be reported to women within the next two weeks," she said.

The spokeswoman stressed the risk of the original tests being incorrect was low but the women were invited for repeat screening "in order to provide complete reassurance".

Responding to the delay, Labour party spokesman on health Alan Kelly said: "It is not good enough that only 7pc of repeat smears carried out have been rechecked," he said.

"The women who were asked to do repeat exams were told that their rechecks would be high priority, yet this does not seem to be the case.

"The HSE must honour their commitment to these women," he added.

"While these are low-risk abnormalities that are being rechecked, women still need peace of mind."

The latest setback is another signal of the pressures faced by laboratories servicing CervicalCheck.

It is still taking up to 27 weeks for women who undergo routine screening to get their test results back.

The backlog of tests continues to be at over 70,000 following a surge in the number of women availing of the offer of additional screening last year in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

In 2018, around 370,000 women presented to the programme, an increase from 280,000 in 2017.

The HSE said some of its existing labs have managed to reduce the waiting times and it continues to "work with others to try and find additional capacity".

It faces difficulty in securing additional lab testing because of the global shortage in cytology.

This is because so many testing services have switched to HPV screening as the primary test.

CervicalCheck plans to switch to HPV testing of slides. However, it is unclear if will be ready to make the change this year.

Irish Independent

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