Half of cervical smears analysed in US

Half of all cervical smears are still being sent to the US for analysis even though a Dublin laboratory has the capacity to process them all in Ireland.

Half of cervical smears analysed in US

MedLab Pathology, based in Sandyford, which junior minister Alex White will officially open today, is a fully-functioning accredited cervical screening unit with a throughput of 160,000 samples per year but which, according to its CEO Eamonn Madden, has the capacity to process double that amount.

“It is vital all cervical screening analysis and reporting is carried out in Ireland and it is hoped that in time the full contract will remain in Ireland to retain and develop medical and scientific expertise in this country. MLP look forward to providing that service,” he said.

The process of sending cervical smears to Quest Diagnostics in the US for analysis began in 2006 and was meant to be short term, with Quest contracted temporarily to clear a backlog of 40,000 smears. After clearing the backlog within six months, Quest got a two-year deal in 2008, followed by a second two-year contract in 2010 and a four-year deal last year. The tests were divided between Quest and MedLab Pathology Ltd in 2010.

In September last year, MLP was re-awarded 50% of the contract and by January this year, was in a position to receive, analyse and report on all 160,000 samples annually in its Dublin lab. Prior to that, because its laboratory was not accredited, it received the samples, shipped them to Sonic (its parent company) in the US, and when the results came back, they were assessed by MLP cytologists and medical scientists who compiled the reports and sent them back to the NCSS and doctors.

At the end of 2011, MLP received accreditation. Mr Madden said they now have about 90 staff, including 25 medical scientists, a number of whom came from public hospitals who lost their cytology screening service once the State’s CervicalCheck smear tests were outsourced.

A spokesperson for the NCSS said Quest and MedLab had been selected following a public procurement process and it was “deemed appropriate to work with both suppliers”. She said there were merits to working with both parties.

MLP has also been recently awarded the sole laboratory contract to analyse and report on samples from the State’s new bowel cancer screening programme, BowelScreen.

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