Healthcare news

Concern over cervical smear testing leads to recall of 150 women

The Public Health Agency has confirmed that 150 women have been recalled to have their cervical smears redone
Seanín Graham

ONE hundred and fifty women in Northern Ireland have been contacted to have their cervical smears redone following concerns about the "technique" used by a nurse performing the test.

Patients affected were attending two GP practices in Belfast, the Public Health Agency (PHA) confirmed yesterday.

It is understood an audit picked up "possible shortcomings" in the healthcare worker's testing.

The surgeries involved are Abbott's Cross Practice in Newtownabbey and Dr Michael McKenna's Practice in Thames Street in the west of the city.

Cervical screening aims to prevent cancer and the recall is a precautionary step, health chiefs said.

The nurse, who is understood to be an experienced healthcare professional, is no longer carrying out smear tests.

Dr McKenna said he was working closely with the relevant health authorities and patient safety was "paramount".

"All patients affected have received letters. If women don't respond we will actively chase them up," he said.

The majority of the recalls relate to the Newtownabbey surgery. When contacted yesterday, the practice management did not wish to comment.

Dr Tracy Owen, the cervical screening lead at the PHA, said she understood the anxiety for women receiving the letters.

"We would like to reassure them that this is a precautionary measure and would urge them to accept the invitation for a repeat test," she said.

"Cervical screening aims to prevent cancer from occurring in the first place by checking for pre-cancerous changes in the cells that line the cervix.

"Any early changes can then be successfully treated which is why it is so important that anyone who is invited for screening to see it as a positive step in looking after their health."

Women aged 25 to 49 are routinely invited for screening every three years, and those aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

In a statement, the PHA said: "The PHA and Health and Social Care Board have been made aware of possible shortcomings in the technique used to take cervical screening tests (commonly referred to as cervical smears) at two GP practices.

"This issue affects a small number of women whose tests were taken by one particular healthcare worker."

All GP practices and individual cervical sample-takers are expected to perform a regular audit of their screening results using standard markers to ensure quality is maintained.

Nurses and midwives are required to undertake an appropriate education programme prior to a role as a sample-taker and participate in regular update training.

The health service in the Republic has been rocked by a cervical screening scandal in recent months, with 18 women dying after being falsely given the all-clear in its national screening programme.

The crisis led to the resignation of health service chief Tony O'Brien.

Meanwhile, the Belfast trust is currently undertaking its biggest ever patient recall, with more than 2,500 patients being reassessed after a probe found 'patient safety' concerns about the work of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt.

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