Women are now waiting up to 27 weeks for results.

Interim HSE Director General Anne O'Connor has revealed on Wednesday morning that the health executive is dealing with a backlog of around 78,000 smear tests, following an increase in demand.

In the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal – which led to over 200 Irish women receiving terminal cancer diagnoses last year – around 90,000 women availed of a free smear check re-test service which was put in place to counteract public health fears. 

Both this service and the publishing of results from this service are the reason for the enormous backlog, which has seen women wait weeks for results. 

"We remain concerned at the length of time being taken for reporting of cervical smears which is on average at 93 days although it can take up to 27 weeks for the report to be provided. There is currently a backlog of 78,000 slides," she said at the Joint Committee on Health on Wednesday morning. 

"In 2018 around 370,000 women presented to the programme, an increase from 280,000 in 2017. This increase of 90,000 was as a result of the uptake of the out of cycle smear test and more women presenting to the programme, which would in normal circumstances be a positive step."

O'Connor revealed the process the HSE is taking to tackle the issue, including the implementation of Scally report recommendations, allocating of funds to private laboratory use and the implementation of a screening laboratory in conjunction with the Coombe Woman and Infants University Hospital.

"The HSE has a signed agreement with one of the private providers and are working through the detail on a contract with the second provider with whom we have a heads of agreement. We also made a strategic decision to develop a national cervical screening laboratory in conjunction with the Coombe Woman and Infants University Hospital. This included an initial capital allocation of €5m to progress the development of the laboratory. A project team and steering group has been put in place to oversee all aspects of this project. 

"We are progressing plans to introduce HPV Primary Screening. A project team is in place and is progressing the various work streams. 

"The HSE has contributed significantly to the development of an implementation plan in collaboration with other State agencies in response to the Scally review recommendations. We have appointed a senior manager to oversee the implementation and established a HSE implementation oversight group, jointly chaired by our Chief Clinical Officer and Deputy Director General - Operations. 

"An interim revision of the HSE Open Disclosure Policy has commenced and will be communicated & implemented throughout the system pending a more detailed review during 2019. The HSE has also reviewed and updated its financial records management policy. All six recommendations from Dr Scally’s interim report have now been fully implemented.

"We have recently appointed a Director of Public Health, Cervical Check Clinical Director and Cervical Check Laboratory Quality Assurance Lead. In addition, a Risk Committee for our screening services, which is independently chaired, has been put in place since Q3 2018. 

"I can assure members that the HSE is absolutely focused on stabilising the cervical screening programme and hence enabling us to progress the introduction of a new enhanced HPV primary screening testing methodology. All possible resources are being directed at this challenge."

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