Saturday 24 August 2019

Smear tests backlog 'near normal level', claims HSE

Vicky Phelan. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Vicky Phelan. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The backlog of CervicalCheck screening tests to be processed has been reduced to almost normal levels, the HSE said yesterday.

The latest official figure is 28,188, compared with a backlog of 81,346 tests back in March. That is just 5,000 above the expected number.

"This number has been decreasing significantly in recent weeks as our laboratories make steady progress in processing all outstanding tests, which we anticipate to be complete by the end of August," a spokesman for the HSE told the Irish Independent yesterday.

"When the CervicalCheck system is working in equilibrium, we would normally expect approximately 23,000 smear test samples to be in progress at any one time."

The backlog was largely driven by a Government promise that all women would be entitled to a retest following the scandal of allegedly misread tests, which had led to women including campaigner Vicky Phelan being told incorrectly that her smear was clear.

Ms Phelan, from Limerick, who received her diagnosis of cervical cancer in 2014, three years after the false all-clear, has now reacted to the latest controversy which saw more than 4,000 women fail to receive test results.

A report this week by Professor Brian MacCraith highlighted serious issues with communications between a US lab and CervicalCheck.

Ms Phelan, whose High Court case last year exposed serious problems with CervicalCheck, said she had hoped to take the summer off as she is "acutely aware this could be my last summer".

"Treatment is going well but you never know with this disease," she said, adding that nonetheless she could not stay silent on the "letters fiasco".

Referring to the earlier report into CervicalCheck from Dr Gabriel Scally, Ms Phelan said it highlighted "a key weakness in the governance structures" in the HSE in regard to CervicalCheck and the National Screening Service (NSS) and how risks are identified, communicated and managed.

"Lessons do not appear to have been learned and we find ourselves now with another report recommending that the HSE move quickly to ensure...an active culture of risk management," said Ms Phelan.

She added that she welcomed the announcement by the new HSE chief Paul Reid that all the recommendations from Prof MacCraith's report will be implemented.

She said that Health Minister Simon Harris must now ensure that a 'women first' approach is taken within the health system.

"We need to take women's health more seriously," she said.

"Dr Scally demanded that 'more and different attention needs to be paid to women's health issues'.

"It is simply not enough to pay lip service to women's health. We have had enough."

Irish Independent

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