Women recalled for new smear tests after possible problems found

Patients at two GP practices have been recalled
Patients at two GP practices have been recalled

A string of women are being recalled for new cancer tests after potential problems were identified at two GP practices.

The recall centres on cervical smear tests, and was sparked by what health authorities dubbed “possible shortcomings in the technique used” by one particular healthcare worker.

They said the issue was picked up by “good vigilance, monitoring and audit processes”, and that the individual who took the tests has now stopped doing so.

In all, a total of 150 women who had tests done across two facilities – namely, Abbott’s Cross Practice in Newtownabbey, and Dr McKenna’s Practice in Thames Street, off the Falls Road in west Belfast – have been sent invitations by their GP for a repeat screening test.

The recall comes just over two months after health authorities announced a recall of 2,500 people who had been patients of Dr Michael Watt,a consultant neurologist who had dealt with patients at Belfast’s Royal Victoria and City hospitals, and at a private practice.

In that case – which has now ballooned to take in well over 3,000 patients, the Belfast health trust said the re-assesment of the patients was so “we can be confident and thorough in ensuring that patients are having the best possible care”.

Separately, in April it emerged that more 200 women in the Republic of Ireland developed cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed smear test in the free national screening programme.

Its Health Service Executive has since admitted that up to 17 women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy have died.

In all, more than 130,000 cervical screening samples are taken each year across Northern Ireland.

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

The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), jointly asked for people not to contact their GPs.

They described the tests as a “precautionary measure” designed to “provide reassurance”, and it does not “necessarily mean that their initial results were wrong”.

The Public Health Agency 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.”

Dr Tracy Owen, consultant in public health medicine and cervical screening lead at the agency, said: “In general, 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.”

A statement on behalf of the two GP practices, issued via the Public Health Agency, said: “We would like to reassure the women who we are contacting that this is a precautionary recall and we have put in place arrangements for those affected to get an appointment quickly. Patients who haven’t received a letter from us have no reason to be concerned and do not need to arrange a repeat test. They should just attend for routine screening when invited.”