Nurses given no formal guidance on smear-test crisis

Nurses who carry out smear tests on behalf of CervicalCheck have received no formal guidance from the national screening programme about how to handle the current crisis.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), whose annual delegate conference begins in Cork today, said members are in the invidious position of trying to encourage women to go for screening, while at the same time unable to reassure them the programme works.

“This situation is really difficult for our members, who have worked very hard to increase the numbers going for screening,” said general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha.

“They are carrying out an intimate procedure in doctors’ surgeries around the country every day. They are trying to reassure the women, make them comfortable, but what has happened now is outside the control of those performing the screening and they are absolutely devastated.”

She said the INMO has written to the HSE’s national director of quality assurance, Patrick Lynch, to ask for guidance vis-à-vis what reassurance to give women concerned about the accuracy of smear test results.

Mr Lynch is chairing a HSE serious incident management team, investigating the circumstances that led to 43-year-old Vicky Phelan not being told for three years that a previous screen had failed to detect cancer warning signs. Ms Phelan now has terminal cancer and it has since emerged that 17 women who took part in the screening programme, and were initially given incorrect test results, have died.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said they wanted Mr Lynch to pass on information that would allow them to reassure women they need not worry about faulty results.

“We presume they have sought that information from the US labs, who are analysing the smears, and we need that information passed onto our practice nurses,” she said.

The INMO represents about 1,500 practice nurses around the country, many of whom conduct smear tests. They also represent nurses working in Well Woman Clinics, as well as midwives.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said members are currently looking at patients’ clinical histories, their family history, and screening history when trying to advise women about the need for repeat smears.

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