I have asked the HSE to introduce HPV testing as the primary screening method for the prevention of cervical cancer as soon as possible. The HPV test is a more accurate testing mechanism than liquid-based cytology, which is the current testing mechanism, and its use will result in fewer false negative results, though it will not eliminate them completely. Its introduction is in line with developments in cervical screening internationally.
The introduction of HPV testing as the primary screening mechanism for CervicalCheck, with cytology as a reflex test, will require a reconfiguration of the laboratory work involved. A tendering process will be required for work to be carried out outside the public sector, and detailed capacity planning is ongoing to determine requirements.
There is no doubt that the issues which emerged last year have resulted in operational challenges for the HSE and the Screening Service, and that stabilisation of the programme in 2019 is an important element in supporting the switch to HPV testing. Accordingly, the HSE is working very actively to manage these challenges while progressing this major development as a priority.
Funding to implement the switch to HPV screening has been allocated in Budget 2019, along with funding to implement the recommendations of Dr Gabriel Scally’s inquiry in to the CervicalCheck Screening Programme and the extension of HPV vaccination to boys, illustrating the Government’s commitment to these essential projects.