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More than 80,000 women in Ireland are waiting up to 18 weeks for smear test results because of severe backlogs and delays, new figures have shown.

Simon Coveney, the Irish tánaiste, apologised last week to the women affected by the delays on behalf of the government. He said that the turnaround time, which is normally between four to six weeks, was now longer than 18 weeks in some cases. More than 80,000 women are waiting for their results.

He stated, “The level of uptake showed that many women wished to get the reassurance of a smear test out of cycle. The Health Service Executive regrets that there are significant delays currently in the reporting of smear test results,” he said. The government has asked laboratories to recruit more staff and to streamline processes around the release of reports.”

The scandal was brought to light after Vicky Phelan, a terminally ill mother of two, was awarded €2.5 million in April after bringing a court case over incorrect smear test results.

An audit later found that 221 women, who developed cervical cancer, had abnormalities that were not initially identified in their smear tests. Between the start of May and the end of September, 42,469 repeat or out-of-cycle smear tests were undertaken.

As of last week, 86,210 smear test samples were still in progress and had not yet been reported. “That compares with approximately 23,000 smear test samples which would normally be expected to be in progress in the system,” Mr Coveney said.

Similar issues have recently been brought to light in England, where cervical screening examples have taken up to 12 weeks to be processed in some areas of the country; six times over the two-week target and has led to patients claims that their lives are being put “at risk”.

Last year, only 54% of women in England received their results on time. The longest recorded wait for a woman to receive the results from her cervical screen is 59 days.

Dr Michael Eden, the cervical cytology network clinical lead at Cambridge University Hospitals, said routine screening was currently taking up to 12 weeks because of “current staff shortages”.

He added: “We would like to reassure women that if they go to their GP with symptoms that cause concern, and they are due or overdue for screening, their test will be marked as urgent and the results turned around rapidly.”

Dr Eden said a new screening system – called human papillomavirus (HPV) primary screening – will be rolled out in 2020, which, he said, “will increase regional and national capacity”.

Shylaja Thomas, screening and immunisations lead for NHS England (Midlands and East) said: “We are working closely with the screening service providers to free up additional capacity so that tests can be processed more quickly.”

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Waiting for results can already be a very anxious time and having to wait up to four months may mean additional worry.”

Pryers Solicitors has extensive experience acting on behalf of patients who have received a delayed diagnosis. If you or someone you know is concerned about a delayed diagnosis of cancer by your healthcare provider, please contact us on 01904 556600, or get in touch today.

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