Irish lab to halve number of smear tests sent to US
THE smear tests of thousands of women, which are currently sent to the United States to be read, will be processed in Ireland "within months".
A multi-national company is to set up a new laboratory employing up to 100 people here, it was announced at the National Healthcare Conference in Dublin yesterday.
Cervicalcheck, the national screening programme, has been sending all smear tests to New Jersey for reading by controversial laboratory giant Quest Diagnostics.
But under a new arrangement it is to split the work between Quest Diagnostics and another multinational, Sonic Healthcare, which will set up an Irish lab to process the smears. This will see half the 300,000 annual smear tests read here.
The rest will continue to be processed in Quest's New Jersey facility along with a small number in the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.
The awarding of the contract to Quest three years ago meant that around 70 Irish cytologists were no longer needed and they were redeployed to do other work in state laboratories.
Dr Colin Goldschmidt, managing director of Sonic Healthcare, said that the smears would initially be sent to their laboratory in Austin, Texas, but that would just be a short-term measure.
The decision to split the work between two laboratory giants was taken for financial reasons, according to the National Cancer Screening Service, which runs Cervicalcheck. It said that both companies would provide the service for the next two years and it would then decide whether to go to market again.
However, it is unclear how many Irish cytologists will be available to work in the new laboratory, given that they have been dispersed to do other work in state laboratories.
The awarding of the contract to Quest in 2008 drew sharp criticism after it emerged that it had paid out a multi-million dollar figure in fraud settlements arising from several investigations over the past 10 years.
Robert Quinn, director of Quest Diagnostics Ireland, said yesterday the firm was delighted its contract was extended and it would continue its commitment to returning quality results in days rather than weeks.
Tony O'Brien of Cervicalcheck said that the new arrangement would maximise value for the Irish taxpayer and provide women with a cervical cancer screening programme that operates in line with the best international standards.