The second report from Dr Gabriel Scally into some outstanding issues with laboratories in the United States that were involving in the CervicalCheck screening service may be completed within days, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Secretary General of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, told the Oireachtas Committee on Health that the report would have to go to Government and the women affected would also have to be briefed.

Earlier, the Interim Director General of the Health Service Executive said she is concerned at the length of time being taken for reporting on cervical smear checks.

Anne O'Connor told the Oireachtas Health Committee that the HSE was actively trying to identify possible solutions that will help reduce the waiting times, which she said were causing a lot of anxiety for women.

The CervicalCheck screening service has a backlog of around 78,000 slides to examine, and it is also taking up to 27 weeks to provide reports on the cancer checks.

It takes an average of 93 days for laboratories to report on smear checks.

Ms O'Connor told the committee that the HSE had worked with existing private providers, other private providers and public service providers in other countries to try and grow the laboratory capacity.

She said that last year saw an increase of around 90,000 women seeking smear tests, as a result of the offer of free repeat screening.

Ms O'Connor said that the HSE was also working to develop a national cervical screening laboratory, in conjunction with the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

She said that there had been an initial capital allocation of €5 million.

She said the laboratory will take some time to develop but will provide a better balance between public and private provision of laboratory services to the screening programme.

The HSE has confirmed that the rate of uptake of the HPV vaccine among girls is now at 65%.

Ms O'Connor told the committee of the figure, and also said that it is continuing to increase.

A programme to vaccinate boys is being "worked up through public health and the National Immunisation Service" who, she said, will roll out a similar type of programme targeted at boys.

The committee heard that HPV vaccination campaign for boys is expected to take place from September this year.

Separately, more than 1,070 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer have agreed to a participate in a Government review by a UK team of their original slides.

The committee heard that the implementation of a new national laboratory is not going to be impacted by the overrun in cost of the national children's hospital. 

Sinn Fein's Louise O'Reilly asked the Department officials present if the €5m budget would be affected by the cost over runs, to which the reply was "absolutely not". 

Mr Breslin has told the committee that 63% of women affected have agreed to participate in the separate UK review of their original smear tests.

Mr Breslin said that where the panel's opinion of cystology results differs to the original results provided by CervicalCheck, the review panel will endeavour to determine, wherever possible, any failures to prevent cancer, or to intervene at an earlier stage.

He said that the panel will provide individual reports for those affected giving an independent assessment of the facts.

The review is expected to take six months.

Mr Breslin said that the decision to offer free repeat screening was a rapid situation decision, which also took into account anxiety women were feeling.

He said there was no contradictory advice to the minister on offering repeat testing in advance of the decision being made.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly asked the HSE if there was a risk that treatment may be delayed for the women in the backlog.

Dr Peter McKenna, Clinical Director with the National Women and Infants Health Programme, said there will be women in the 80,000 backlog who will have abnormal smears.

But he said that the natural history of cervical cancer is that there is a lead-in time of between 10-15 years, so the risk was low.

Most women who had abnormal smears would be a long way from developing cervical cancer.

However he said that there would inevitably be some women who were nearer the stage of transitioning from pre-invasive cancer, to invasive.

So he said that in general the risk is low but it was not possible to give an estimate of the number.

A tender for the provision of a new HPV testing service will be advertised in the coming weeks. 

Damien McCallion, National Director of Screening Services, said the HSE is committed to building up the public capacity for such testing in partnership with the Coombe Hospital. 

He said in the public system the Coombe currently does 9% of testing, and the balance is made up from two private providers.

Building up the service in the Coombe will take time, and in the mean time, Mr Breslin said, they had to find a partner to help them to provide the new screening service. 

Answering questions from Solidarity-PBP TD Brid Smith, Mr McCallion said there was a "real risk" that they would go to the market and nobody would respond because of the difficulties with the service in Ireland. 

But following "pre-tender market engagement" he said he is "more confident" that they will secure people who will work with the HSE. 

Labour TD Alan Kelly asked if Mr McCallion was confident the new HPV test would be available this year, however he replied that until they got into the tender process it is speculation. 


The CervicalCheck crisis emerged last April, when details of the case of Vicky Phelan became public.

The mother of two young children was awarded €2.5m in a settlement against the US lab that carried out the test over a false negative result in 2011.

More than 200 women were affected by the crisis, some of whom have since died, and the Government promised free repeat screening for women.

It led to a substantial increase in the number of screening tests being submitted last year.

Elsewhere, the High Court heard yesterday that there are not enough judges to hear the cases of women suing over the alleged misreading of their CervicalCheck smear tests.

The court is currently hearing evidence in the action being taken by Ruth Morrissey who is terminally ill with cervical cancer.

Additional reporting: Laura Hogan