THE almost eight-month backlog for smear tests must be addressed to restore confidence and prevent delayed cancer diagnoses, according to two Cork people who have been directly impacted.
The backlog stands at nearly 80,000 tests, with the average wait time for results at a record level of up to 33 weeks.
“It’s an extremely serious situation,” said Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene passed away in 2017 from cervical cancer following two false negative tests in 2010 and 2013. “The background of the whole debacle itself is around delayed diagnosis and this backlog could now be a contributing factor to that, so it’s very important that it’s addressed quickly.
“It’s of the utmost importance really,” he added.
At the height of the CervicalCheck controversy, the Government announced that free smear tests would be provided to every woman in the country.
The former head of CervicalCheck, Dr Gráinne Flannelly, told the Oireachtas health committee that she had warned against the decision, because of lack of lab space, just hours before it was announced on April 28, 2018.
A consultant at Cork University Maternity Hospital had also cautioned in January this year that the backlog had already resulted in delayed diagnosis of cancer for some patients.
Dr Noirin Russell said the delays are “a direct result of offering patients unnecessary extra smear tests in 2018 which was done against the advice of medical experts in an almost hysterical manner”.
She was speaking when the average wait time was at just 22 weeks.
“That’s a huge concern and a huge risk,” said Mr Teap. “It’s probably one of the most urgent and pressing matters that needs to be addressed quickly for that reason alone.”
The HSE has now said it has found additional lab capacity in other countries to process the smear tests.
“I know they’re working on a solution and they need to find existing labs that have the capacity to address this,” said Mr Teap. “We know they’re proactively looking which is positive because we need a solution quickly and we need to see this backlog being reduced.
“It doesn’t help with getting the confidence in the service back up,” he added.
“The end goal here is having HPV testing in place as the primary screening tool.
“This backlog is now delaying that so not only is it leading to a higher risk of delayed diagnosis, they also can’t move forward with HPV screening and restoring trust in the system until the backlog is addressed.”
Carol Murray, from Midleton, is one of the 221 women impacted by the CervicalCheck false-negative controversy. She said additional resources should have been in place to prevent the delays building up.
“The minister should have had the resources in place to deal with the increased demand and it’s ridiculous that he didn’t,” she said.
“This didn’t just affect the 221 women, it affected women all over Ireland who were going to want to get a smear test then so the increased demand was obvious.
“To say he didn’t get advice on the issue is ridiculous; he shouldn’t have needed it anyway.”