Friday 22 February 2019

'Unprecedented' smear test demand over crisis

Demand has soared following revelations about mother-of-two Vicky Phelan’s false negative smear result
Demand has soared following revelations about mother-of-two Vicky Phelan’s false negative smear result

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has seen the number of women booking in for smear tests more than double in the aftermath of the CervicalCheck screening scandal.

It comes as GPs warned patients may have to wait several days for a routine appointment, as they are receiving dozens of additional calls daily and an "unprecedented demand" for consultations.

Health chiefs said earlier this week that women who want to have a cervical smear test will be entitled to one free of charge at a GP surgery or clinic.

Thousands of women have sought retests, following revelations that Limerick mother-of-two Vicky Phelan, who has cervical cancer, had a false negative smear result in 2011.


The IFPA told the Herald that extra smear clinics are now being put on to cope with the demand at its Dublin-based clinics.

"There has been a large volume of calls coming into the two IFPA medical clinics since Monday," said a spokeswoman.

"In the last three weeks of April, the clinics took around 50 smears a week.

"This would be in line with the number of smears we do annually under CervicalCheck - last year it was 2,843, so an average of 55 a week."

However, this week alone, around double that number had booked in - with some 106 women booking a smear test.

The IFPA reported that the numbers are even higher for next week. By Wednesday, some 131 women had already booked in for a smear test next week.

The IFPA has in excess of 367 cervical smears booked in for this month. The average for the first four months of the year was 234 a month, so that's more than a 55pc increase so far, the spokeswoman said.

"Most women are opting for CervicalCheck but some are paying privately," she added.

IFPA medical director Dr Caitriona Henchion advised women: "The first step is to visit the CervicalCheck website to see if you're due or overdue a smear. If that's the case, you should go ahead and book one.

"If you're worried about your past smears, you should contact either CervicalCheck or your smear taker. They can remind you of when the smears were done and what the results were.

"Based on that, they can tell you if a repeat smear is advised."

Meanwhile, the Well Woman Centre has also seen a marked increase in the number of women seeking smear tests.

"We are getting people who have not had their smear test done, who want to have them done," said medical director Shirley McQuade.


"We have had people who have had smear tests done with us over the years, and want to have a copy of all their test results going back to whenever they started. Our computer system goes back to 2002."

People are also emailing in and asking when their last test was done, she added.

The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has warned patients may experience delays in getting an appointment, due to the "hugely increased demand placed on general practice as a result of the ongoing CervicalCheck controversy".

It said that GPs are also experiencing a significant increase in calls from concerned patients, which has led to patients experiencing difficulties getting through.

"Our members are telling us that this has placed a pressure greater than the influenza season on our members," the NAGP said in a statement.

"We will always aim to see urgent cases on the same day, but patients may now have to wait several days for a routine consultation.

"Women should continue to attend for routine smears as part of the CervicalCheck screening programme as normal. Screening saves lives," the statement added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is not ruling out a public inquiry into the scandal.

He praised Ms Phelan, saying she is "the person who really shook the whole system up and woke us up to this".

He was speaking after officially opening a primary care centre in Tallaght.

Ms Phelan has called for a public inquiry into the scandal.

Mr Varadkar said he spoke to Ms Phelan yesterday and praised her.

He said he agrees with her that any inquiry should be "speedy" and "transparent".

The Taoiseach confirmed Ms Phelan will take part in the scoping exercise that will determine the nature of the inquiry.

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