Four-month delay in urgent smear tests slashed to four weeks

THE length of time for women in Kerry waiting the re-examination of abnormal smear test results has been “significantly improved”, according to the Health Service Executive.

Exactly a year ago, about 200 cases — 80 of which were deemed clinically urgent — were waiting up to four months for follow-up examinations at the hospital.

At the time, the backlog of women awaiting colposcopies — special visual examinations to assess the severity of a problem — was so great that the hospital sought help from the National Treatment Purchase Fund to tackle the waiting list. This was regarded as an exceptional development, given that the fund does not normally carry out diagnostic procedures.

But the HSE now reports a significant improvement in the service provided by the hospital’s colposcopy department.

Urgent referrals are seen within four weeks and routine referrals within 10 to 12 weeks, according to the hospital’s general manager, Margie Lynch.

At present, there are 49 patients on the waiting list, of which two are urgent. The urgent cases have appointments in the near future.

Also, 12 patients out of the 47 on the routine waiting list have appointments in the near future, Ms Lynch said.

As well as that, an additional gynaecology clinic had been set up to relieve the colposcopy waiting list at the hospital, she added.

Ms Lynch further stated a positive outcome had recently been obtained by the hospital in the recent inspection of colposcopy by the National Screening Cancer Service.

When the situation became known in May of last year, consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Mary McCaffrey, head of the hospital’s colposcopy department, blamed the waiting list on staffing shortages made worse by the Government’s embargo on recruitment to the public service. She also said a lack of physical space was a factor.

Dr McCaffrey pointed out the number of patients being referred for colposcopies had grown substantially due to the volume of smears being done in the catchment area, but the staffing and resources needed to deal with the increase had not been put in place.

According to best practice, any woman with abnormal smear test results should be seen within eight weeks, Dr McCaffrey said.

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