The start of a new CervicalCheck screening system has been put back a few weeks to the end of March.

According to recent CervicalCheck Steering Committee reports, primary HPV screening had a planned launch date of  28 February.

It is now due to begin on 30 March, according to Minister for Health Simon Harris.

The current system of smear tests looks for changes to cells of the cervix.

HPV testing is more accurate and looks for the presence of the virus which causes cancer.

Where a woman is found to be HPV-positive following primary HPV screening, a follow-up test using liquid-based cytology will be carried out on that same sample to inspect for cellular abnormalities.

HPV testing will reduce the number of screenings each woman has in her lifetime, while providing better accuracy in detecting pre-cancerous abnormalities and early stage invasive cervical cancer.

The move to primary HPV testing was recommended by the Health Information and Quality Authority in May 2017.

In September 2018, in his main report on the CervicalCheck crisis, Dr Gabriel Scally said that HPV testing would significantly improve the accuracy of the screening process, increasing the chances of more cancers being prevented due to the detection of early changes.

The Health Service Executive said it has been working on a project to introduce HPV primary screening for more than a year. 

It said that while there have been a number of indicative dates for the introduction of the new test, it has only been possible to confirm the actual date in recent weeks following extensive consultation with the various stakeholders involved.

The HSE said it had always targeted the first quarter of the year for the introduction of the test.

This type of cervical screening has been introduced in Australia, England, the Netherlands and Wales.

In a separate development, the woman whose case last year led to details becoming public of an IT glitch, which caused test result delays in the CervicalCheck programme, has said she has withdrawn her contribution to the Independent Rapid Review, which was published last August.

She said she is unhappy about the failure to resolve a conflict over what transpired between her and a Department of Health official last year over the IT problem with smear tests.

Sharon Butler Hughes wrote to the HSE recently about the matter.

She said she is now considering legal options.