Repeat testing is required in about 1,000 cases, according to the HSE.
Following the announcement earlier this week that a number of cervical smear tests carried out last year will have to be repeated as they have expired because of a backlog in the system, the HSE has released a statement apologising about the delay.
As a result of the controversy surrounding the CervicalCheck programme in 2018 – which saw over 200 women diagnosed with cervical cancer following original misdiagnoses – the Government announced in April that free smear tests were to be made available to every woman in the country.
This decision was made against the advice of experts and officials in the Department of Health, who warned Minister for Health Simon Harris that it would compromise the entire programme.
These elevated levels in workload resulted in enormous backlogs that have left women waiting more than six months for test results.
Due to the lateness in distributing results, a number of smear tests have been rendered invalid.
"Cervical Check processes about 250,000 cervical screening tests each year," the statement begins.
"In 2018, an additional 84,000 women came forward for screening, due to understandable concerns about cervical screening following the CervicalCheck audit. Almost 350,000 screening tests were submitted during 2018, and about 82,000 of these are still being processed by our laboratories.
"This increased workload, which includes repeat as well as routine smear tests, has led to long and very regrettable delays in the reporting of results. Results are currently being reported on average within 22 weeks of the test being taken; in the past, results would have been available in approximately 2 to 4 weeks.
"This has been reported over the last months in the media, and details have been available on the HSE’s CervicalCheck website and provided to women contacting our programme.
"Due to this backlog, a very small proportion of the overall samples had expired before they had been transferred to slides for testing. Repeat testing was required in about 1,000 cases.
"CervicalCheck has been in touch with women about this and with their GPs, and sincerely apologises to all women whose screening test results have been delayed. We assure them that we are making every effort to improve the situation."
The statement went on to address "a separate issue" which had arisen in relation to specific tests carried out by Quest Laboratories on behalf of CervicalCheck.
"Quest Laboratories has advised CervicalCheck of a specific problem in relation to standard HPV tests. These HPV tests are part of the cervical screening process and have been carried out by Quest outside of the manufacturer’s recommended timeframe. Quest has advised us that this has been happening since secondary HPV screening was introduced.
"Action is being taken to investigate the issue fully. Our expert clinical team has been reviewing any clinical impact or risk. Our programme has been working to validate the details of who has been affected, so that we can communicate with women to inform them in the first place."
Damien McCallion, Interim National Director of the National Screening Service has assured Irish women by saying that those affected will be made contact with "very shortly".
"The laboratory first informed us of this issue at the end of November 2018, and we established an expert clinical team to establish the facts with the laboratory and review the situation. Following a detailed validation process, we will very shortly be in a position to communicate with the women affected.
"We sincerely apologise for any concern that that may arise as a result of this. CervicalCheck is committed to communicating openly with women in the first instance, that process has been in planning for several weeks and we expect to be able to do that by the end of next week.
"We will be able to provide more detail as soon as women and Smeartakers working with CervicalCheck have been informed. That is our priority."