Monday 23 September 2019

HSE 'searching worldwide' for labs to clear CervicalCheck test backlog

John Connaghan, interim director general at the HSE. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Connaghan, interim director general at the HSE. Photo: Frank McGrath

Eilish O’Regan

The HSE is searching "worldwide" for laboratories to help clear a massive backlog of CervicalCheck smear tests, it was revealed today.

Around 80,000 tests have built up to be processed and women are waiting five months in many cases for results.

HSE acting chief John Connaghan said today: "We are also carrying out an extensive worldwide survey exercise to secure additional capacity given current demands leading to extended reporting time for women."

CervicalCheck currently is relying on three labs, two in Dublin and another in New Jersey in the USA. But they do not have the capacity to reduce the build-up.

The unread tests followed the decision to give free screening to any woman, outside their normal three or five year schedule, after the emergence of the CervicalCheck scandal.

He said the HSE has secured an extension of the contracts with labs which were due to expire in October.

He said plans to introduce HPV screening which will reduce the chances of abnormalities being missed in labs is progressing.

But, he added; "Until we complete our planning work and finalise on current laboratory provision we are not in a position to provide a critical path/timetable for the introduction of HPV testing.

"We are continuing to provide supports to the women and their families impacted by the crisis.

"We are also strengthening the role of patients in the CervicalCheck programme with the establishment of a PPI (Public Patient Involvement) panel and patient representation on key groups."

Referring to the hospital trolley crisis he said that planning for Winter 2018/2019 is well advanced .

Priorities for this winter include:

  • Ensuring integrated working between acute hospitals and the community.
  • Ensuring robust preparedness plans that optimise our existing resource.
  • Ensuring de-escalation pre-Christmas, maintaining demand and capacity balance between Christmas and the New Year and ensuring the provision of enhanced measures for the New Year surge.
  • A focus on ambulatory patients and on older persons with emphasis on admission avoidance, enablement and community supports.
  • Strengthened working arrangements with GPs, Nursing Homes and the HSE.

He added; "€10m once-off funding has been allocated by the Department of Health for winter. 

"It is intended to utilise this additional funding to increase the provision of community supports pre-Christmas and open additional capacity in January."

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