HSE must delay roll-out of more accurate cervical screening test
The introduction of a more accurate test to reduce the risk of a woman getting a wrong cervical screening result and developing cancer has had to be delayed, the Irish Independent has learned.
When the CervicalCheck scandal broke in April, it emerged 209 women went on to develop cervical cancer after getting an inaccurate smear test result.
The Government promised it would fast-track the introduction of a form of laboratory screening which has fewer false negatives.
It would mean samples would be tested in laboratories for the HPV virus, which is strongly linked to cervical cancer.
The HPV test would mean that 20pc more pre-cancerous abnormalities would be detected.
It would be less likely a woman would have abnormalities missed and go on to develop cervical cancer, and it would be more precise than the current form of routine testing.
However, a spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed yesterday that while it is committed to the roll-out of HPV testing, there will now a be a "significant delay" in its introduction.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris had both pledged it would be in place by October or sooner.
But the HSE revealed that "in light of recent developments, it is now anticipated that there will be a significant delay in its introduction".
The spokeswoman said: "Although an interim clinical director for CervicalCheck has been appointed, the absence of a permanent [one] is one of the factors that has impacted on the planned roll-out date."
She said a new steering group had been formed to oversee the project, which includes all relevant people.
"The group are looking to review and update the project plan based on recent events."
She said the group is also conscious that the scoping review of the scandal, being carried out by Dr Gabriel Scally, may highlight other factors that may need to be addressed as part of the detailed planning for the roll-out of HPV testing.
"The HSE is seeking to strengthen the project team that will be responsible for the implementation of HPV testing.
"The HSE has advertised for the role of clinical director for CervicalCheck," she added.
If the result of a smear test is HPV negative, it means that no HPV was found.
In this case, no further tests need to be carried out on the sample, and a woman is given the all-clear.
HPV positive means HPV has been found in the sample.
In this case, the sample would also be tested for abnormal cells.
If abnormal cells are found along with a HPV positive result, a woman is referred for additional screening.
The introduction of HPV testing in cervical screening has already been called for by the watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
It would mean that more cervical cancer cases and deaths would be avoided for every screening test carried out compared with the existing test.
It would also lead to fewer screening tests over a woman's life time and there could be a gap of five years between screenings. Currently, the HPV test is applied in only a limited number of cases in the laboratories used by CervicalCheck.