THE vast majority of women affected by recent capacity issues in the CervicalCheck screening service will be contacted by the end of this week.
More than 200,000 women had a cervical screening sample taken in the first half of 2021 while just 300,000 samples were expected for the entirety of this year. About 200 of around 200,000 women who had a sample taken in the first half of 2021 are now being contacted by CervicalCheck and asked to book a repeat cervical screening test following a capacity issue.
Those being contacted are women in whom HPV was found in the initial screening.
The original samples expired due to a delay in a testing facility in Santry, Co Dublin as a result of Covid-19 infection control measures and the unprecedented number of samples.
This meant the samples were not fully tested within the accurate timeframe.
Speaking to The Echo, clinical director with CervicalCheck Nóirín Russell said the vast majority of women affected will have been contacted by the end of this week. More than 100 women had been contacted by Thursday of last week.
Dr Russell, who is also a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Cork University Maternity Hospital, said they had been expecting to process 300,000 samples this year.
“What we weren’t expecting was that 200,000 would come in the first six months of the year and actually, January and February were relatively quiet, so the vast majority of those women attended between March and June.”
Those affected will book a repeat test at least three months after their initial test and this will be fast-tracked through the programme with the results expected in four to six weeks.
“At the moment, because the numbers are so high, women are waiting eight to 10 weeks. That’s the new normal for waiting for a screening result but this cohort of women will be fast-tracked.”
However, Dr Russell said the uptake is positive and noted previous concerns amid a low uptake of screening last year.
“We were concerned because the response rates to the letters when we did restart in July, it was really slow to get going at the start.” Following a positive test for HPV, the follow-up test to check for abnormal cells (cytology test) must be done within 42 days of the sample being taken.
Dr Russell said that it is “incredibly unlikely” that the issue, which impacted women from across the country, would have a serious clinical negative effect.
“We know that approximately six in 10 women will have normal cells when we do that cytology test, and four in ten will have abnormal cells and then they’ll need a referral on to colposcopy.
“But even that four in 10 will still have an incredibly low chance of having cervical cancer.”
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