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Cervical screening services review statement

26th October 2023

A Southern Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

“We are sincerely sorry for any concern this situation may cause the women affected, and this large-scale review is being undertaken as quickly as possible.

“The majority of women who have had cervical screening in the Southern Trust are not affected by any of the processes under review.

“The Trust commissioned the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath Consulting) to undertake an independent assessment of its cervical screening services from 1 January 2008 and October 2021. The trust received the RCPath report early in the summer, and worked to consider its findings and recommendations in detail, and put in place robust and comprehensive processes to take forward the review. It was important to get this right before contacting the women affected.

“We have checked the cervical smear histories of all women who have had their samples analysed in the Southern Trust laboratory since 2008 and have identified just over 17,000 women who will require their smears reviewed. This is around 4% of the total smear records for this period. This is not an indication that these woman may have cancer. It is merely a test to detect if there are any abnormalities that could potentially lead to cancer in the future. Most importantly it gives the opportunity to consider any appropriate treatment if required. The chance of pre-cancerous changes in the cervix at any time remains low and 9 in 10 people have a negative screening result. We anticipate that for the majority of women their result will not change.

“We have written to women whose slides will be reviewed to advise them that they will contacted by letter regarding the outcome of the review or to invite them for a new smear test, and that it will take a number of months for this work to be completed.

“The letter also included details of an information helpline and explained that common questions and answers are also available on a dedicated section of our website which is updated on an ongoing basis, based on queries women have raised with us.

“In the majority of cases, we will be able to review the previous smear, which are stored in our laboratory, but in some cases, we will invite women to attend for a further smear test. A specialist team of staff will re-examine the previous smear samples in order to confirm that the last results issued were correct.

“This approach which follows best practice has been taken in consultation with the Public Health Agency and goes above and beyond what was recommended in the RC Path report. The decision to check all existing slides will provide a more comprehensive assessment and mean that in most cases there will be nothing further that the affected women will need to do. Only those who require a new test will be invited to attend for screening. Any women whose slide review detects potential abnormalities will be prioritised for invitation for a new smear test or for further assessment and diagnosis at colposcopy if appropriate. To recall all women for a smear test could cause unnecessary discomfort and inconvenience for those affected, and may result in some not attending for a variety of reasons.

“The task of implementing this review is significant and robust governance arrangements are in place. Service user involvement is a key part of this process. We are continuing to working with the PHA and other Trusts to ensure that the review is carried out as quickly as possible.

“It is important to emphasise that cervical screening is not a diagnostic test. The smear test collects a sample of cells which are checked for pre-cancerous changes which can then be treated, therefore avoiding the changes going on to become cancerous. While a very successful preventative programme, cervical screening cannot detect all potential abnormalities.”