Belfast / Newtownabbey smear test recall: seven questions answered

The recall affects people who attended two GP surgeries
The recall affects people who attended two GP surgeries

It is now known that 150 women who underwent smear tests at two different clinics are being recalled for re-screening.

It comes after health authorities say that they uncovered potential problems regarding how one health worker had carried out tests.

The patients being recalled had gone to either Abbott’s Cross Practice, next to Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, and Dr McKenna’s Practice, in Thames Street off the Falls Road in west Belfast.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said: “If you are a patient of either of these two practices and have not received a letter, there is no reason to be concerned. You have not been impacted by this issue and there is no need to take any further action.”

However, patients who did get letters are asked to contact their GP to arrange a new appointment.

The PHA said the problem was uncovered by “good vigilance, monitoring and audit processes”.


1) The person who was doing the suspect smear tests across the two GP practices – can you tell us what their position was? Nurse, for example, or doctor?

We need to protect the identity of the individual and the potential impact on their colleagues. It was a healthcare professional and we cannot confirm their specific position.

2) Can you tell us have they been suspended? And if they are still working, where are they based?

The healthcare professional stopped taking screening tests immediately this issue was identified.

There are no concerns raised by the employer about the individual’s wider practice or competency.

The healthcare professional self-referred to their regulatory body.

3) When did the PHA become aware of the problem?

The incident was first reported by a GP Practice on 26 April 2018.

It was important that the concerns noted by the reporting Practice were fully investigated to assess the scope and significance of the incident.

This extended the investigation to a second GP Practice and the need to ensure that all affected patients were identified.

It was also important to ensure that appropriate plans were put in place for patients to have their repeat screening test before letters were issued.

4) Can you be more specific about what prompted this recall, besides saying it was uncovered by ‘good vigilance and auditing’?

The cervical screening test is often called a smear test and involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix.

We have been made aware of possible shortcomings in the technique used to take the samples, in that the tests may not have adequately sampled all the cervix.

This was identified by a GP practice who noticed a change in the pattern of results they were receiving on their patients. This led to an audit and further investigation.

5) Is there an estimated cost to the public purse of the recall?

Costs have not been quantified.

6) When was the last time there was such a recall of cervical smear test patients?

The PHA is not aware of a similar recall within this programme in Northern Ireland.

7) It is 150 women spread over two sites. But can you tell us roughly how many women per site?

A total of 150 women across two GP practices have been identified and offered a repeat screening test.

To put this in context, over 130,000 cervical screening samples are taken each year across Northern Ireland.

READ MORE: A former cervical cancer sufferer has said patients who are being recalled over doubts about their smear test results “shouldn’t hesitate” to undergo the unpleasant experience of getting re-screened.