Irish health service confirms backlog of 86,000 smear tests

19 October 2018 (Last Updated October 19th, 2018 11:35)

Republic of Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed a backlog of more than 60,000 smear tests in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Irish health service confirms backlog of 86,000 smear tests
Micrograph with a high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL) in pap test. Credit: Nephron

The Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed a backlog of more than 86,000 smear tests in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Women on the smear test waiting list in Ireland can expect to wait up to 18 weeks to receive their results.

The HSE found an increase in testing after the government offered retests in May for anyone concerned about earlier cervical cancer assessments.

“Women on the smear test waiting list in Ireland can expect to wait up to 18 weeks to receive their results.”

An audit of smear tests found that around 220 cervical cancer patients could have benefitted from earlier treatment. Of this group, 20 patients died.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who was a prominent figure in the CervicalCheck national screening programme crisis, died at 37 years. Following two incorrect tests results, she was finally diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016.

HSE confirmed there were 42,469 repeat smear tests taken between May and September this year.

The HSE was quoted by BBC as stating: “The HSE regrets that we are currently experiencing significant delays in the reporting of cervical smear test results. The programme has operated for many years with a reporting time of between four and six weeks for cervical screening.

“Unfortunately results are currently being reported within 18 weeks of the test being taken. In a small number of cases, this may take longer. We would like to apologise to those patients affected and assure them that everything possible is being done to improve the situation.”

The HSE has urged laboratories to make extra recruitment besides streamlining processes to ensure reports are released without delays.

A cervical screening test also called a smear test is a way to detect changes in the cells of the cervix. This screening is not a test for cancer but rather a way to monitor the health of the cervix.

For one in 20 women, the test will indicate changes in cervix cells. Although most of these changes need not necessarily lead to cervical cancer and cells may go back to normal, but in some cases, the abnormal cells will have to be treated.