US hospital reviews smears read by lab at centre of Phelan case

Vicky Phelan

A US hospital has launched a full review of smear tests screened by the medical company which paid €2.5m to Vicky Phelan as concern grows across the Atlantic about the accuracy of testing.

Baylor College of Medicine in Texas launched a probe into the diagnostic accuracy of the cervical smears it sends to Clinical Pathology Laboratories in Austin, Texas, in the wake of the cervical cancer screening scandal in Ireland.

The hospital said it was ordering an immediate investigation into the smears taken from women in the greater Houston area but it was unsure of how many women were involved.

The statement said: “Baylor College of Medicine contracts with Clinical Pathology Laboratories in addition to other laboratories, to read pap smears collected at Baylor outpatient clinics.

“We have reached out to Clinical Pathology Laboratories to ascertain the accuracy of diagnoses for our patients and will do what is necessary to ensure the safety of our patients.

At this time, it is not known how many of our patients could have been impacted by the possible inaccurate reading of pap smears. The College has launched a full review and any patients affected will be contacted.

It added that it provided medical direction of Clinical Pathology Laboratories clinical laboratory operations in the greater Houston area, overseeing tests such as the analysis of blood, body fluid, and urine specimens for outpatient services at Baylor Clinic.

The inaccurate readings highlighted in the Irish court case have now had far-reaching effects.

One concerned Houston resident, John T James, wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle newspaper recalling his alarm when he watched a pathologist read cervical smears when he was a student in the late 1970s.

He wrote: “We met to discuss my research project. He read scores of Pap smears with amazing speed, while we carried on a discussion of my progress. 

"I remember thinking: ‘These are not just slides, they are the lives of women. Has that been forgotten?’

“As a mere graduate student, I kept my mouth shut.”

Mr James said no pathology service company should be allowed to continue operations without annually submitting random slides read by its staff to an expert pathology panel for review.

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