The unprecedented demand in cervical screening in 2018, due to understandable concerns from women as well as increased uptake of screening, has led to long and very regrettable delays in the reporting of results. The HSE has advised me that results are currently being reported on average within 22 weeks of the test being taken. While in some cases results are reported in a shorter period of time, in other cases this period of time is longer.
I would like to sincerely apologise to the women affected by these delays and assure them that this is a top priority for myself, my Department and the HSE. The HSE is working actively to manage the issue and to identify additional capacity where possible, although the global shortage of cytology capacity means this is very challenging.
The HSE has advised 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 when she is invited to do so. In this context, the current reporting time of cervical screening results, whilst undesirable and regrettable, poses a very low risk to women.
As the Deputy will be aware, false negatives are inherent in all cervical screening programmes, and cervical screening will not prevent all cancers. However, we know that cervical screening saves lives. Regular smear testing is the most important thing a woman can do to prevent cervical cancer, and that is why my focus is on ensuring continuation of the screening programme and that the current challenges in relation to smear test turnaround are addressed.