Phase 1 of the national cervical screening programme has been up and running in the Mid-Western Health Board since October 2000. Under the programme, cervical screening is being offered at five year intervals to approximately 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group free of charge. The national health strategy includes a commitment to extend the programme to the rest of the country. The Health Boards Executive, HeBE, has initiated an examination of the feasibility and implications of a roll-out of the national programme which is a major undertaking with significant logistical and resource implications. The work currently being undertaken as part of the roll-out includes an evaluation of phase 1, policy development and the establishment of national governance arrangements. This work has regard to both the experiences gained from the phase 1 programme and other international programmes as well as current best practice.
The evaluation of phase 1 is a key element in informing the development of a high quality cervical screening model for Ireland. The evaluation is currently under way and it is anticipated that it will be completed within the next few months. Once completed, HeBE has advised that it will be in a position to prepare a draft roll-out plan. Over the last number of years my Department has allocated additional funding, including the amounts referred to by the Deputy, to support the ongoing development and enhancement of cervical cytology services including the achievement of a reduction in waiting times for smear test results. The funding has facilitated the employment of staff, provision of training, introduction of new technologies such as liquid-based cytology, investment in new equipment and upgrading of facilities. Further additional funding amounting to €500,000 was allocated in 2004 as part of a programme of continued investment in cervical cytology and colposcopy services.