Women with abnormal smears face nine-month wait for help
Some women who undergo cervical screening and have abnormalities can wait up to nine months for investigation, the Irish Independent has learned.
Swamped clinics, where women who have an abnormal smear test result under CervicalCheck are referred to for examination, are now in some cases taking three to four months to provide appointments.
It has already been revealed that pressure on laboratories servicing CervicalCheck has left thousands of women who have a test waiting up to five months for return of their result.
It means a woman can wait five months for a test result - and then another four months for a diagnostic procedure.
The strain is being felt by 15 public hospital outpatient colposcopy clinics where women, whose test results cause concern, are sent for further investigation.
Colposcopy is carried out where a test finds abnormal cells in the cervix. The cells can often go away on their own, but sometimes there's a risk they could eventually turn into cervical cancer if not treated.
The longest delays in the clinics were revealed at this week's meeting of the CervicalCheck Steering Committee, which includes Lorraine Walsh, who is among the group of 221 women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy. Ms Walsh said information to the group indicated the referral to a colposcopy clinic could take 12 to 16 weeks.
"This is really concerning for me and something I hope can be reduced considerably. Private clinics could potentially assist in dealing with the backlog," she said.
"This would result in women being seen and receiving treatment quicker. We all know that earlier diagnosis and treatment give a better clinical outcome for recovery."
A spokeswoman for the HSE said: "Colposcopy clinics nationwide have seen increases in activity due to increased demand from screening, and more referrals from general practice, in recent months.
"Patients may be referred to colposcopy following an abnormal smear or on referral from their GP if they present with symptoms. Clinics have also seen a rise in demand due to increased anxiety and concern about cervical cancer."
She said colposcopy clinics ensure "appropriate management of all referrals received" through the employment of a triage system which ensures that clinical need is prioritised appropriately in all cases.
"In October, the number of weekly colposcopy sessions carried out was over 58pc higher than projected normal activity. By increasing activity in this way colposcopy clinics are making progress in seeing women as quickly as possible."
She said that in the same month, some 89pc of women referred to colposcopy, classified as having high-grade abnormal cells, received appointments within four weeks, just below the target of 90pc. "Similarly, 92pc of those who had low-grade cells were seen within eight weeks, exceeding the target of 90pc.
"We continue to work with colposcopy clinics to support them, and are contact with each clinic to see how we might help alleviate the current pressures."