By Louise McCarthy
WOMEN in West Cork are now waiting eight months to get vital cervical smear results, according to a local medical centre.
Women from Bantry and Beara are waiting much longer than the 27-week delay – or just over six months – quoted by health officials at an Oireachtas health committee last month.
Many women have been attending the Glengarriff Medical Centre since the national cervical smear controversy arose, kickstarted by Vicky Phelan, who secured a High Court settlement after getting a false negative result.
Following the controversy, the government began a media campaign encouraging women to get cervical smear exams at their local GP.
But the well-established Glengarriff practice says that there is now an eight-month backlog for women getting their cervical smear results, and that while the government encouraged women to go and get retested, the staff in the labs were not made available.
‘Unfortunately this is major,’ said a spokesperson for the West Cork practice. ‘We had a good system, people were getting their cervical smear test results in time.’
The Glengarriff practice spokersperson said it was too early to tell what the consequences of the long delays in getting results will be for the women. However, doctors are still eager to encourage women to have smear tests.
So far, none of the patients attending the Glengarrif centre have received letters for repeat check-ups.
A HSE statement said: ‘This increased workload has led to long and very regrettable delays in the reporting of results. Currently, results are taking up to 27 weeks from the time you have your smear test. In some cases, this is taking longer. In the past, results would have been available in about four to six weeks.’
Almost 350,000 screening tests were carried out during 2018. There are usually about 250,000 cervical screening tests each year.
Women who pay privately are getting results back within weeks from MedLab, according to the West Cork practice, and, as a result, some women have opted to take this route. The smear test at the GP is approximately €50 and the examination at Med Lab also costs about €50.
Symptoms of cervical cancer are usually bleeding and pelvic pain, but it is a slow-growing cancer, so catching it at the early stage can be very effective.
The ashes of Irene Teap, who died of cervical cancer not knowing her smear tests were incorrect, were spread in Allihies on the Beara peninsula, where her grandmother came from, her husband told The Southern Star last May.
Carrigaline-based Stephen Teap said the family had visited Beara every June, with their sons Oscar and Noah, because it was a very special place for his wife Irene.
Irene was one of a number of women who died from cervical cancer having received incorrect smear test results.