Trusts apologise after reports woman's abnormal smear results were 'missed'

The Southern Trust has launched a review into cervical screening services after revelations that a woman's abnormal smear tests were missed.

It comes after reports that a woman went on to develop cancer after three of her abnormal smear tests were missed.

It is understood that the Southern Trust's review will be carried out by the Royal College of Pathology.

In a statement the Trust said: “The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has commenced a preliminary investigation examining potential issues regarding cervical screening and we are working with the Public Health Agency on this matter.

"We are unable to provide further information whilst this work is ongoing. We understand that people may be concerned by this situation but we are working hard to ensure these potential issues are reviewed in full.

"In Northern Ireland, cervical screening is available to women and people with a cervix aged 25–64. This is the age group where screening is of most benefit. Screening is offered every three years for the 25–49 age bracket, and every five years for 50–64-year-olds.

"When you receive an invitation for cervical screening, it is really important to accept the invite and attend for the screening. Cervical screening aims to prevent cervical cancer from developing. It’s often called a ‘smear test’ and checks the cells from your cervix, the lower part of the womb.

"A cancer could develop between screening tests, or there is a small chance that the test misses some changes to your cervix. No matter what age you are, if you are concerned about symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, or pain or discomfort in the lower pelvis, you should seek advice from your GP, even if you attend regularly for screening.”

It is understood the Western Trust was also involved in the woman's care and has apologised.

The South Eastern, Belfast and Northern Trusts have confirmed they are not involved in the review.

Cervical screening or smear tests as they are known are vital in detecting the early signs of cervical cancer.

If a smear comes back abnormal it is not a diagnosis of cancer, it is an early red flag that something might need further investigation.

Smear tests are preventative and can stop cancer developing.

Around 110,000 smears are carried out across Northern Ireland every year and around 80 cervical cancers detected.

The DUP's Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has requested an urgent meeting with the Southern Trust.

Carla Lockhart said: I am horrified to learn that despite three abnormal results to her smear tests, these were missed on each occasion and the patient in question, ‘Susan’, was then diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"There must be absolute confidence in the process, from test to analysis of result. This has shaken the confidence of local women who now will be asking ‘was my test result assessed correctly?’

"The Trust has taken steps to provide this reassurance, and that is welcome.

"I will be meeting the Trust to seek further answers on how this went so badly wrong.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein President Michelle O'Neill said the review must be ‘thorough and robust’ to ensure serious failings are never repeated. 

Michelle O’Neill said: “I want to thank ‘Susan’ for coming forward and sharing her story and raising awareness of three of her smear tests being misread over ten years and her battle with cervical cancer. She is an inspiration. 

“What happened to ‘Susan' was a truly harrowing ordeal and a serious failing at the part of local health trusts. It should not have happened. 

“A review is underway, and it must be thorough and robust to ensure what happened to this woman is never repeated and to restore women’s confidence in cervical smear services.  

“Women need to know quickly if something is wrong, so that it can be identified, and treatment can begin quickly. It can be lifesaving.  

“This will be a very worrying time for the hundreds of women potentially affected, they deserve full disclosure and to be kept fully informed every step of the way during this review.”

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