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GP fears cervical test delays could lead to another ‘scandal’

A Cork GP has warned that the current delays in processing cervical smear tests could result in a high-grade abnormality being picked up late and the treatment window being missed.

GP Dr Nick Flynn, who operates two practices in Cork city, told the Medical Independent that “another potential scandal within the scandal” could emerge as CervicalCheck delays continue to increase. Patients are waiting around eight months for smear test results, according to the HSE. The increased reporting time was announced on 1 April, with the waiting period rising from 27 weeks to 33 weeks.

Almost 350,000 screening tests were carried out in 2018. There are usually about 250,000 cervical screening tests annually. Dr Flynn believes that while many smears will be reported as “normal”, it is likely that one high-grade abnormality could occur, which, he said, would be a “disaster”.

“While many will be low risk, we still have to be prudent,” he said. “One sample when tested could nearly be a cancer and if a patient has to wait eight months for their result and therefore to attend colposcopy, she could have cancer at this point and the system will have let her down. If delayed diagnoses occur because of the offer to provide unscheduled smear tests and the resulting delays, this could be the ultimate disaster for Simon Harris and patients.

“There is genuinely a lot of anxiety among women about the reporting delays and it is increasing our workload.”

Dr Flynn added that in a recent €2.5 million High Court settlement agreed after a case was taken by a woman with cervical cancer, the patient’s experts argued that a smear test showing high-grade abnormalities, if acted upon at the time, would have left the woman with just a 1 per cent chance of developing cervical cancer.

This case, in addition to the reporting delays, reaffirms there is real risk that “a high-grade abnormality is picked up late and the treatment window” could be missed, Dr Flynn warned.

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