Backlog Of 79,500 Slides In Cervical Check Programme

According to the HSE, it can take up to 33 weeks for reports to be provided.

Mr Damien McCallion, Interim National Director, National Screening Service, Health Service Executive has revealed that a backlog of almost 80,000 slides is currently present in the Cervical Check programme. 

He added that the Health Service Executive "is doing its utmost" in order to find solutions to the prolonged waiting times.

McCallion told the committee that the HSE has been grappling to find extra screening capacity for tests.

He said that The Coombe Laboratory has a turnaround time for tests of about three weeks and Quest about seven weeks, but for MedLab it can be up to 33 weeks.

He said that in recent weeks, the laboratories have started the transfer of slides for the review by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG).

According to McCallion, the RCOG has estimated that it will take six months for the process to conclude.

The HSE representative told the committee that the CervicalCheck programme has saved lives and continues to do so.

"Whilst this is very undesirable, our clinical advice is that this poses a very low risk to women," McCallion said.

"Notwithstanding this, we recognise that these delays are extremely difficult for women and we are making every effort to improve this situation. We have made significant improvements in the turnaround times with two of our three laboratories and are working closely on an improvement plan with the third laboratory.

"We are absolutely focused on reducing waiting times for results as quickly as possible."

As a result of the Cervical Check scandal that rocked the HSE in 2018, around 370,000 women presented to the programme that year to retake smear tests for fear of receiving misinformation. This saw a 90,000 increase from 280,000 in 2017.

"Over half of samples received are being processed within 15 weeks, although it can take up to 33 weeks for the report to be provided. There is currently a backlog of 79,500 slides," McCallion said. 

The former head of CervicalCheck, Dr Gráinne Flannelly, told the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday that she had warned against the decision to retake cervical smears at that rate just hours before it was announced publicly in April, citing lack of resources as the reason why. 

In a letter to the committee, she said she told the head of the HSE's National Screening Service at the time that issues would arise because there was not enough lab capacity to cope with an increased demand and that the decision would "fundamentally undermine the screening programme".

She said that at lunchtime on 28 April 2018, she met the HSE's Head of Screening, Charles O'Hanlon, and raised concerns about a proposal for a free out-of-cycle smear test.

Later that afternoon, the Minister for Health tweeted that all women would be offered a free smear test.

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