The delay in receiving smear tests results which has arisen as a result of out-of-cycle smears and a general increase in uptake is a priority concern for me, my Department and the HSE. The HSE is working to source additional capacity, notwithstanding global challenges with cytology capacity and resources, and also works closely with the laboratories in maximising their capacity to deal with the demand. This issue will take some time to resolve.
On the Deputy's direct question about the risks posed to women, we should hear from some of the medical voices on this matter. I note the comments of Dr. Mary Short, director of women's health at the Irish College of General Practitioners, who said there should not be undue concern about the delay. I raise her comments not to minimise in any the genuine challenge but to try to provide some reassurance for women. Dr. Short has said the smear test is not a diagnostic test but rather is used to look for pre-cancerous cells that can be treated in a colposcopy clinic, that the timeline between pre-cancerous cells and cancer can be more than 20 years and that, therefore, there should not be undue concern about the delay.
On the transfer of smear test samples, the subject of the second part of Deputy Donnelly's question, I have received confirmation from the HSE that since the end of July, this has been happening in the vast majority of cases. Between April and October, there was a 0.29% rate for expired samples and vials, similar to the rate for the same period last year when there was a rate of 0.25%.
There may be a small number of cases where the vial used to contain the sample expires, or where a sample may be insufficient. In such cases, a woman and her GP are advised by letter of the need for a repeat smear test after three months.
I can also reassure the Deputy in relation to colposcopy waiting times. While clinics have experienced a surge in activity due to increased demand, in October 89% of women referred to colposcopy, who were classified as having high-grade abnormal cells, received appointments within four weeks. That is just below the national target of 90%. Similarly, 92% of those who had low-grade cells were seen within eight weeks, exceeding the target of 90%. CervicalCheck has advised that it is unaware of any woman waiting a year for an appropriate referral to colposcopy.