Michael Staines
Michael Staines

08.51 10 Jun 2019


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The HSE has struck a deal with a US laboratory to process thousands of smear tests for the CervicalCheck screening programme.

The deal will see Quest Diagnostics, which already handles 45% of slides for the State screening programme, taking on another 45% at four new US sites.

The health service said the deal will ensure the screening programme can continue. All new slides will now be sent to Quest or the Coombe Hospital.

Meanwhile, Irish-based MedLab Pathologies - which has stopped taking in new smears - will continue its efforts to clear the huge backlog of samples that are waiting to be processed.

The HSE said the lab has reduced its backlog by 11,000 since the start of May - with 44,000 to go.

The health service said the CervicalCheck programme should typically have 23,000 samples in process at any one time - with women facing wait times of between four and six weeks.

It said women are now waiting an average of eight weeks.

Screening

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Professor Anthony Staines from the School of Human Sciences in DCU said finding the expertise to process the backlog has been difficult.

“It has been very difficult because it is hard to get capacity to do cervical cytology and it takes time to train people to do this task because it is really, really hard.”

The massive backlog facing the programme came after the Minister for Health offered free repeat checks after the scandal originally broke last April.

It has seen some women waiting as long as 33 weeks for results. It emerged earlier this year that some women would have to be called back in to undergo the test again as the backlog has seen their samples expiring.

Minister Harris has said failing to offer the free repeat tests would have been untenable in the wake of the scandal.

CervicalCheck

Damien McCallion Interim National Director of the National Screening Service said: "We are grateful to both the Coombe and Quest for their continued commitment to the cervical cancer screening programme over many years and, in particular, for continuing to provide services to the programme during what has been a very difficult time for CervicalCheck and the women it serves."

“As has been well documented publicly, we feared for some time that we would have to stop the programme - such was the difficulty in finding sufficient capacity for our needs in 2019," he said.

“We are very grateful to Quest Diagnostics in particular for providing the required capacity to allow the vital work of cervical cancer screening continue in Ireland.”

Quality

The HSE said all four of the new sites proposed by quest have been inspected and approved by officials from the health service.

Officials found the labs to be "of a very high standard," with the assessments confirming that women will continue to have access to the highest quality screening services available.


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Cervical Cervical Cancer CervicalCheck Health Minister Hse Quest Diagnostics Simon Harris

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