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Over 17,000 women are to have their smear tests re-checked

An estimated 17,500 women in Northern Ireland are to have their smear tests re-examined as part of a huge cervical cancer smear test review dating back 15 years.

At the beginning of this week, a report from the Royal College of pathologists (RCPath) found a significant number of women screened in the Southern Health Trust are likely to have had negative cervical screening results which would have been identified as potentially abnormal by other labs.

woman in pink and white polka dot shirt

As a result, around 17,500 tests from 1st January 2008 and October 2021 will be reviewed and affected women will be contacted with further information.

However, following such a situation, politicians from local authorities are calling for more support to be in place for the women affected. Linda Dillon, Sinn Fein MLA for Mid-Ulster, said: ‘It is deeply concerning to learn that around 17,500 women are to have their smear tests re checked, particularly given that it dates back to 2008.

‘The Department of Health and the relevant trusts need to ensure women’s health is a priority and ensure this backlog is dealt with as quickly as possible.’

‘The women affected by this backlog must be contacted as a matter of urgency and be fully supported through this process,’ said Ms Dillon. ‘I have written to the Department of Health seeking urgent clarity on their plan to speed this process up and assess the impact on the current backlog of smear test results.’

She added: ‘Women need to know quickly if something is wrong so that it can be identified, allowing treatment to begin as soon as possible.’

What is cervical screening?

The testing service is made available to women across the UK when they reach the age of 25. It cannot detect cancer, but the process can help detect and treat abnormal cells that may prevent the deadly disease.

Within the screening, the service looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause abnormal cells to grow on the cervix. If HPV is found a cytology test is used to check for abnormal cells.

Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland does not have the primary HPV screening system in full operation.

The next steps

The test reviews in Northern Ireland are set to commence within the next few weeks, but results could take months or even years if women are recalled to re-do their cervical screening.

In a statement the Department of Health said: ‘The department is closely monitoring the actions being taken at trust and regional level in response to the RCPath recommendations.’

News of cervical cancer screenings being poorly conducted in Northern Ireland has broke during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place between 1st-21st October. 

Image: Angiola Harry

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