The interim director general of the HSE has said that she ‘remains concerned' about the length of time women are having to wait to obtain the results of their cervical smear tests.
Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, Anne O'Connor noted that the length of time women are waiting for their smear test results is ‘an average of 93 days, although it can take up to 27 weeks for the report to be provided'.
There is currently a backlog of around 78,000 slides, she noted.
Ms O'Connor informed the meeting that last year, around 370,000 women presented to the CervicalCheck programme, an increase from 280,000 in 2017.
This increase of around 90,000 was as a result of the offer of an additional free smear test for anyone who was concerned following the CervicalCheck crisis.
"We have worked with existing private providers, other private providers and public service providers in other countries to try and grow our laboratory capacity. Some of our existing providers have managed to reduce the wait times and we continue to work with others to try and find additional capacity.
"We are actively trying to identify possible solutions that will help reduce the wait times, which we know are causing a lot of anxiety for women," she said.
Meanwhile, Ms O'Connor also told the meeting that the HSE's focus ‘continues to be on supporting women and their families who were impacted by the CervicalCheck crisis'.
She said that as well as providing a range of supports to the affected women, the HSE recently completed a detailed piece of work that updated the information on the 221+ patient group. This was done in conjunction with 221+ patient representatives ‘and will help inform the provision of future supports for the group'.
"We also continue to support women and their families in the provision of access to their records and ensuring women get their slides from laboratories where required for legal review. A new Client Services Unit was established in our National Screening Service to support this process. So far, 109 out of 118 slide requests have been dealt with in, on average, 25 days and there are only nine requests still being processed," she explained.
Ms O'Connor added that the HSE has ‘continued to strengthen the governance and management' of its screening services by, for example, recently appointing a director of public health, a CervicalCheck clinical director and a CervicalCheck laboratory quality assurance lead.
"I can assure members that the HSE is absolutely focused on stabilising the cervical screening programme and hence enabling us to progress the introduction of a new enhanced HPV primary screening testing methodology. All possible resources are being directed at this challenge," she insisted.
The new HPV test was to be introduced in Ireland by the end of this year, however it is unclear if this will happen now given the delays in the current system.