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Clinic recalls 71 women for smear tests as it admits 'human error' over abnormal results

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 70 women who may have been discharged early from a specialist clinic in Antrim Area Hospital after a "human error" are being recalled for new smear tests, the Northern Trust has confirmed.

A trust spokesman said any risk was "very small".

An internal audit revealed that 71 women who had potentially pre-cancerous cells over a two-year period had not received an adequate number of cervical examinations. This was out of 3,000 patients.

The problem at the colposcopy clinic emerged around a week-and-a-half ago, leading to the 71 women being recalled.

Colposcopy clinics are for women with abnormal smear results who require further examination or monitoring.

The health body stressed that it is a "precautionary measure" designed to provide assurances regarding the quality of its service.

Dr Ken Lowry, medical director of the Northern Trust, told the Belfast Telegraph he understood that women would be worried but said he had been assured that any risk is "very small".

"We spotted a number of patients we felt should have been on a more frequent call back who weren't. So we looked, and out of the 3,000 there were 71 we want to offer a follow-up smear to," he said. Dr Lowry said the audit provided a "learning curve" for the trust. He added: "It's down quite simply to human error."

The women affected have now been contacted and will have a follow-up smear test.

An advice line opened yesterday will be available until June 16.

Additional clinics have been opened and Dr Lowry said yesterday it is hoped all the women will be treated within the week.

"Any woman who has not heard directly from us by tomorrow (June 10) should be reassured and need take no action," he said.

SDLP MLA and Stormont health committee member Fearghal McKinney said it was vital the trust is as "open and transparent" over the situation.

"The important thing now is the women who are affected respond promptly so they can get any call back and the smear test will give them accurate results. But down the line the Northern Trust will have to answer questions as to how this happened in the first place," he said.

  • If you are concerned contact the advice line number on 028 9442 4804.

What is a colposcopy?

It is a procedure to find out whether there are abnormal cells on or in a woman's cervix or vagina. A colposcopy is performed if a smear test shows moderate or severe cell changes. The woman will be invited to visit a nearby colposcopy clinic.

This is carried out by looking at the cervix through a magnifying instrument called a colposcope. The doctor or nurse uses a device called a speculum to hold open the walls of the vagina. They can then look at the cervix through the colposcope, and see any areas that may be abnormal.

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