Women living in Belfast are being failed by the health service as it has emerged they are waiting twice as long as they should to be told whether they have cervical cancer, it has been claimed.
Under Government targets 80% of women should be informed of the result of their smear test within four weeks and 100% should be told the result within six weeks.
Dr Michael McKenna — a GP based in west Belfast — said his patients are waiting up to 12 weeks for results of smear tests and said the problem has been ongoing for over a year.
One Belfast woman, who did not want to be identified, said: “I had my smear test done eight weeks ago and I still haven’t heard anything. I assumed my letter had got lost in the post so I rang the health centre to find out what was happening and they explained there was a backlog.
“I’m pretty sure everything is going to be fine but there is still the worry there that it may not come back clear. The last smear I had came back as abnormal so this is a follow up smear, so I am already quite concerned and the additional wait is making it even more stressful.”
Dr McKenna, a member of the British Medical Association’s (NI) GP committee, said it is unacceptable that patients are waiting so long for their results.
“While the delay may not actually make a huge difference in terms of outcome for the patient, it is far from ideal,” he said. “The fact is most patients are waiting twice as long as Government targets state they should and it’s not acceptable.
“At the moment my patients are facing a 12-week delay in results. It has almost become the norm because this has been going on for so long.”
A spokesman from the Belfast Trust said the backlog should be cleared in five to six weeks.
“The trust processes between 1,000 and 1,200 cervical smear tests each week,” he said.
“In order to alleviate pressure on the system, arrangements have been put in place to have 500 screening tests per week performed by the Western Health and Social Care Trust. The trust expects to be within the national standard again within the next five to six weeks.”
Jim Wells, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee, said he was shocked at the delay.
“There are very good reasons for these targets and I am shocked they are being breached so badly.
“I would like to know when the trust took action to address this situation. I am sure it is not as though the problem just appeared.
“We know these tests are absolutely vital in detecting cancer and we are constantly being told of the importance of early diagnosis in improving the survival rate.”
A cervical screening test (smear test) is a method of preventing cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix (lower part of the womb). For one in 20 women, the test will show some changes in the cells of the cervix. Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells will go back to normal on their own. In some cases, the abnormal cells need to be treated to prevent them becoming a problem later. All women aged between 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening. It is estimated that early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing.