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 they should have a further test, 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 as a result of significant media coverage of the issues that emerged in late April.
In the months since then, there has been a significant increase in the volume of women presenting for smear tests. This includes 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 immense pressure on lab capacity. The HSE has advised that results of smear tests may take up to 22 weeks from the time of the test. Although many results are returned in less time, some may take longer.
The HSE has been working actively with the contracted laboratories, and reports they have agreed to undertake additional recruitment, provide for overtime and manage annual leave in an effort to address this issue. In addition, the HSE is aiming to source additional screening capacity internationally, which would improve the turnaround time of results. However, I am advised that cytology capacity is a challenge internationally, as countries start to move to primary HPV screening.
As referenced by the Deputy, the HSE is developing a capacity plan which takes account of available capacity and expected demand, with the aim of bringing the programme into stabilisation this year. This is a priority concern for my Department and the HSE, and detailed consideration will be given to the report and its contents as soon as it is received by my Department.