The Deputy's party leader raised this matter in the Dáil last Tuesday week and referred to me making this "political promise", as she calls it, against official advice. I hope the Deputy or Deputy Michéal Martin will clarify the official advice I was not following because I clarified for the House this afternoon that I followed the advice of my officials, including the Chief Medical Officer, in providing this important reassurance for women. It was welcomed by many members of the Deputy's party and across the House.
The Deputy made an important point about resources, but it is an issue of capacity. As I stated to Deputy Kelly, it was almost impossible to estimate how many would take up the offer of reassurance or how long the period of unease would be. Almost 350,000 screening tests were submitted to CervicalCheck laboratories during 2018, of which approximately 82,000 are still being processed. The increased workload has led to delays in the reporting of results. Results are being reported, as I stated, on average within 22 weeks of the test being taken. Owing to this processing backlog in the period April to December 2018, a proportion of cervical screening samples were not transferred to slides within the six-week timeframe. Repeat testing was required in 550 cases or 0.25% of total samples. This compares with a rate of 0.23% for the same period in 2017. CervicalCheck contacted the women concerned and their GPs to inform them of this issue and invite them to attend for a repeat smear test in three months, as repeat tests can only be carried out three months after the last test to allow time for cells to grow back.
I am conscious that there are two matters and I want to be clear on them. As I indicated, Quest Diagnostics has advised of an issue related to a number of human papillomavirus, HPV, tests carried out outside of the manufacturer's recommended timeframe of 30 days. The HSE advises that, subject to final confirmation, approximately 4,600 women will require a retest - the original estimate was 6,000 - and that the vast majority of letters to the women concerned have now issued. The clinical risk is deemed to be exceedingly low. I know that is a message all of us and patient advocates will want to get out. The two separate issues are the backlog, with 550 women recalled for repeat smear tests through their GP, and HPV testing, which has resulted in 4,600 women being recalled on a precautionary basis for a retest, despite the clinical risk being exceedingly low.