Wednesday 22 August 2018

Women face 12-week wait for results due to extra work for labs

Alison Begas, chief executive of the Well Woman Centre
Alison Begas, chief executive of the Well Woman Centre
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Anxious women waiting for the results of smear tests are facing delays of up to 12 weeks after a surge in demand for screening in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Test results were previously returned as early as four to six weeks, but the extra lab workload has pushed this out to 12 weeks in some cases.

The Government was forced to offer free retests after many women became concerned about the accuracy of their results.

This followed revelations about mistakes involving 209 women who developed cervical cancer.

Alison Begas, chief executive of the Well Woman Centre in Dublin, said it had told some women it could be eight to 10 weeks before a result comes through.

"We are not saying it will always take that long but we want to ensure they are not worried if there is a delay," she added.

The centre had been doing 125 to 135 smear tests a week but this escalated to 300 at the height of the controversy and demand is still high.

The centre has all its tests read in the laboratory in the Coombe Hospital which is contracted by CervicalCheck to do the work.

The Irish Family Planning Association also said it had a six-week turnaround, while it used to take four weeks.

A spokeswoman said: "In May, 408 women had smears at our two clinics - that's compared to 235 for the same month last year. As of today, there are 346 appointments booked in for June. Last year's number was 240."

The HSE confirmed that nationally over the past number of weeks there had been an increase in demand for cervical screening tests.

"This is because some women have requested a test to ease any worry that they may be experiencing. There are also women who have missed screening test appointments with CervicalCheck in the past who are now having their tests done," the spokeswoman said.

She said this meant that the CervicalCheck screening programme was processing about two times the number of tests than it usually does. "In the past, test results would be provided to doctors and nurses within four to six weeks following the test; at the current time, results should be available six to nine weeks following the test.

"While this is no cause for concern, it is our aim to restore the reporting timeframe as quickly as possible.

"In the meantime, CervicalCheck would like to reassure women that this longer timeframe, whilst not desirable, is highly unlikely to impact on their care."

The spokeswoman stressed: "If women are experiencing symptoms, they should consult their doctor."

Dr Gabriel Scally, who is conducting a scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal, has recommended clearer information for women on the limitations of testing.

This will emphasise the failure rate involved in screening, which can lead to unavoidable failures.

The 209 women at the centre of the scandal were given wrong test results as a result of an error rather than a test failure.

In future women will be asked to sign a consent form which will clearly state that there will be full disclosure in the event of any error or missed diagnosis for any reason.

It is important that women continue to have screening. Every year some 300 women receive a cervical cancer diagnosis, and 90 die from the disease, while hundreds of others are treated for pre-cancerous changes. Since CervicalCheck began, it has detected over 50,000 pre-cancerous changes in women without any symptoms as well as over 1,200 cancers.

Irish Independent

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