SENATOR Róisín Garvey has criticised delays in cervical screening services, saying they are causing huge stress.
The Inagh woman also shared her own experience of the worry that results when a smear test shows up irregularities.
“Several women have contacted me to tell me that they have experienced a huge amount of stress caused by delays in getting results after they had an initial cervical smear test, and they experienced further delay, in cases where there were irregularities, in getting an appointment for a colposcopy procedure or have irregular cells removed and discover the final diagnosis,” she told Junior Minister Frank Feighan.
“A few women have told me that they had to wait over five months. As a woman who has had a cervical smear test and irregular cells were discovered, I know that as soon as one is told irregular cells have been found one automatically thinks cancer, and one continues to think like that until one is told that it is not cancer. So that is a stressful situation.”
The Green Party senator said that with around 1,000 women being diagnosed each month with irregular cervical smears, the wait for a final result could be four to five months.
“In some cases, the consultants have the results but if they go on holidays or take a break for a few weeks, which they are entitled to do, the test results sit on their desks and there is nobody in place to convey the test results,” she added.
“A few women have contacted me to tell me that they had waited for weeks and I made representations on their behalf so their results were taken off the desk of the consultant, who had gone on holidays, and brought to light so the women got their results.
“That is not my job. I should not have to help people to gain access to their medical results. It is the job of the HSE, clinicians and consultants to deliver results to women.
“I do not know who is to blame for delays and it probably is not the fault of consultants.
“A woman told me that the reason for the delay in her case was that her consultant had the results but went on holidays. That poor woman was in bits because she thought she might have cancer and every single day she waited for her results.
“Partly due to me making inquiries she got her results quicker than she would have if she had not contacted me. Speeding up medical results is not our job as politicians.”
Senator Garvey then outlined the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) targets on waiting times and asked Minister Feighan if they are being met.
“The HSE and the Government have set target times as follows: the results of smear tests should be four weeks; an appointment for a colposcopy should be eight weeks, which is still a long time; and results for colposcopy should be four weeks,” she noted.
“So the waiting time should not be five or six months. Have these targets been met? I ask because I could not find out that information.”
Responding, Minister Feighan described Ireland’s screening service as world class.
He said that thanks to huge efforts on the part of medics, hospitals and laboratories the CervicalCheck programme is back on track after Covid-19 and the impact of the cyberattack on the HSE.
He added that figures for colposcopy attendance, from March 2022, show that the majority of people are being seen within the programme’s target time frames.
“In terms of colposcopy attendance at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), the latest figures in March 2022 show that this applies here also, with 100% of urgent and high-grade referrals seen well within the set targets,” he said.
Minister Feighan added that If somebody goes on leave, there should be a mechanism in place.
He undertook to raise the matter with the minister for health and said he would email the most up-to-date waiting time data to Senator Garvey.
Senator Garvey said that, despite what Minister Feighan was being told, she knew of cases where women were waiting for months for results.
She said the problem was not in getting the initial smear done, but in the follow-up processes, and repeated that it should not fall to politicians to follow up people’s results.
Minister Feighan said the issue raised were “interesting and valid”. “If someone has a cervical check done, the results should be made available as quickly as possible and should not be on somebody’s desk,” he said.
“If the Senator sends me details of the case, I will follow it up in the Department.”