In May 2018, I asked CervicalCheck to make the necessary arrangements to provide that any woman who had had a CervicalCheck smear test, and whose GP considered that she should have a further test as part of her reassurance, to access such a further test without charge. This decision was made in good faith to address the considerable fears of the many anxious women in Ireland, following issues which had emerged in relation to the CervicalCheck screening programme.
During 2018, there was a significant increase in the volume of women presenting for smear tests. This included women who have availed of the out of cycle tests, but also a greater number of women presenting for scheduled screening. This increased level of engagement with the programme is welcome. However, the increased demand has undoubtedly put pressure on lab capacity and turnaround times.
The HSE has been working closely with labs to manage this issue and to improve turnaround times for smear tests. In addition, the HSE is working intensively to put in place additional capacity, through extensive searches internationally.
The HSE advises that the CervicalCheck Programme has recently agreed with laboratories to prioritise those slides which originate from women who attended colposcopy, as this cohort of women are considered to have the most serious need.
The HSE also advises that the natural history of cervical cancer would indicate that the disease would normally develop over a period of 10 to 15 years. Due to this very fact, it is important that any woman of screening age attends for cervical screening each and every time she is invited to participate. The HSE has advised that in this context, a delay in the return of cervical screening results, whilst undesirable, is not necessarily dangerous and poses a very low risk to women.