Northern Ireland politicians call for women to be supported over smear tests issues

Local politicians have called for women in Northern Ireland to be supported after it emerged thousands will have their smear tests re-checked, with some having to be screened again.

On Monday, a report from the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) found that a significant number of women screened in the Southern Health Trust are likely to have had negative cervical screening results which would have been identified as potentially abnormal by other laboratories.

This means that about 17,000 tests spanning from January 1 2008 and October 2021 will be reviewed, and affected women will be contacted with further information.

Linda Dillon, Sinn Fein MLA for Mid-Ulster, said women affected by the Southern Trust's review of cervical cancer screening must be fully supported.

"It is deeply concerning to learn that around 17,500 women are to have their smear tests re checked, particularly given that it dates back to 2008," she said.

"The Department of Health and the relevant trusts need to ensure women's health is a priority and ensure this backlog is dealt with as quickly as possible.

"The women affected by this backlog must be contacted as a matter of urgency and be fully supported through this process.

"I have written to the Department of Health seeking urgent clarity on their plan to speed this process up, and assess the impact on the current backlog of smear test results."

She added: "Women need to know quickly if something is wrong so that it can be identified, allowing treatment to begin as soon as possible."

Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart has said the news of the re-tests are "deeply worrying".

"Cervical screening is absolutely vital for women, and it is important that women have confidence in the screening process, and that test results are accurate," she said.

"That confidence has been completely undermined.

"I have spoken to women impacted by this issue and who raised initial concerns. I subsequently engaged with the Trust to express these concerns and press for this course of action.

"Therefore this extensive process of re-checking and in some cases re-testing is welcome.

"Priority must now be given to those who need a repeat test.

"The whole purpose of screening is to detect any abnormalities early. Time is now very much of the essence for those women who are in this position.

"It is essential that the necessary resources are allocated to this re-testing process, and that anxiety and fears can be assuaged with urgency.

"The Trust has many questions to answer.

"The failures outlined by the Royal College of Pathologists are deeply worrying, and will raise questions around how process and staff performance are monitored to ensure the highest standards of clinical practice and patient care."

Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast Paula Bradshaw said the possibility of re-tests would cause "stress and anxiety" in people affected.

"I would encourage anybody who receives a recall letter to follow the guidance enclosed and to attend their new appointment," she said.

"This will undoubtedly cause a great deal of stress and anxiety to anybody who receives a letter, but any questions can be answered from the Southern Trust's dedicated helpline.

"I will be following up with the Southern Trust's leadership to ensure that a joined-up approach to implementing the recommendations of the report made by the Royal College of Pathologists must be prioritised.

"We must do all we can to ensure that no failures like this can happen again, and prevent any potential distress to affected service users."

The Department of Health said the findings of the report are "clearly unacceptable".

Dr Stephen Austin, medical director for Southern Trust, apologised on behalf of the trust following the report.

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