Friday 23 August 2019

Former CervicalCheck clinical director said she warned labs could not cope with free repeat smear tests

Dr Grainne Flannelly of Cervical Check. Julien Behal/PA
Dr Grainne Flannelly of Cervical Check. Julien Behal/PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

THE former clinical director of CervicalCheck has said she advised that labs would not have the capacity to deal with a rise in smear tests if they were offered to women outside of their normal three or five yearly screening.

Grainne Flannelly’s revelation has been communicated in writing to this mornings meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee, although she will not appear before it.

Dr Flannelly, who stepped down after the CervicalCheck crisis broke, will give her view on the decision by Health Minister Simon Harris  and the Government to give a free test to any woman who requested it as a reassurance as the controversy raged at the end of April last year.

It has since contributed to a backlog of nearly 80,000 tests and a waiting time of up to 33 weeks for a result.

Her correspondence to the committee states: ”I attended a meeting with Dr Jerome Coffey, Dr Colm Henry and the head of screening, Mr Charles O Hanlon, at the offices of the NSS at lunchtime on Saturday, the 28 of April 2018.

“Following this meeting, Mr O Hanlon called me into his office to confirm that he had been contacted by a representative from the Department of Health (DOH) to discuss a proposal to facilitate a repeat test for any woman concerned about the result of her screening test.

“The immediate response emphasised by me to Mr O Hanlon that this raised the following issues:

“General Practitioners would not be able to be paid for this service as there was no mechanism for payment of out of programme tests.

“Laboratories would not have sufficient capacity.”

She said already laboratories had issues with recruitment and retention of cytologists given the proposed move to HPV screening.

CervicalCheck had contracted for on average 250,000 tests per year, open access for repeat testing would be difficult to plan for and tough to deliver sufficient capacity to avoid longer waiting times for results.

Colposcopy services will not have sufficient capacity.

“Capacity for new colposcopy was based on the numbers of women screened. Again, open access for repeat testing would be difficult to plan for and difficult to deliver sufficient capacity to avoid longer waiting times for appointments. Most importantly, it would fundamentally undermine the screening programme.”

She added that at a follow-up discussion, within the hour, Mr O Hanlon reported that when he contacted the DOH, the response was the decision was to proceed with this policy change in any case. No further explanation was forthcoming.

“The announcement was made later that afternoon. Later that evening I stepped aside as clinical director. I have no knowledge of any subsequent discussions between the NSS, HSE and the DOH regarding this.”

The issue will be raised at the meeting today by Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly.

Senior officials from the HSE and CervicalCheck will update the committee on developments.

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