Belfast Telegraph

150 recalled in Northern Ireland smear tests scare - doctors reassure women

By Lisa Smyth

A GP at a surgery where patients have been recalled over cervical smears has said he is confident no one will come to harm as a result of the scare.

A total of 150 women at two GP practices have been invited to attend for another smear test after concerns were raised that previous screening may not have been properly carried out.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has issued the recall to patients of Abbots Cross Medical Practice in Newtownabbey and Dr Michael McKenna's Practice in west Belfast.

Dr McKenna said: "I am sure that all the new tests will come back normal."

A healthcare worker concerned is no longer carrying out the smears and has referred herself to her regulatory body, the PHA said.

Cervical smear tests are routinely offered to women between 25 and 64, and can detect abnormal cells. If identified at an early stage, treatment can be administered to prevent these developing into cancer.

The PHA was first alerted to concerns in April after it emerged that a member of medical staff may not have been carrying out smears correctly. It reviewed all tests performed by the healthcare worker, leading to yesterday's recall, which involves women who had smears over the past three years.

Letters were posted to affected patients on Monday asking them to ring their GP surgery and make an appointment for a new smear test at their earliest convenience.

Dr Tracy Owen from the PHA said: "We understand that the women who are receiving these letters may be anxious, but we would like to reassure them that this is a precautionary measure and would urge them to accept the invitation for a repeat test.

"In general, cervical screening aims to prevent cancer from occurring in the first place by checking for pre-cancerous changes in the cells that line the cervix. At the same time, it may be that a woman who was earlier told her test was negative may have subsequently begun to experience changes in her cervix.

"This would have happened regardless of the earlier test and will be picked up by the new test.

"Any early changes can then be successfully treated which is why it is so important that anyone who is invited for screening to see it as a positive step in looking after their health."

The PHA has offered additional resources to the two surgeries where patients are affected to allow the recall to happen as quickly as possible.

Some clinics may be carried out in the evenings and at weekends.

However, Dr Owen stressed that while she would like women to return for a smear as soon as possible, it is recommended they wait three months before undergoing a second smear.

For this reason, she said some patients may have to wait for their test.

Smears are offered every three years to women between 25 and 49 and every five years to women between 50 and 64.

They are also carried out on women over 65 if they have not had the test since they were 50, or for those who have had abnormal results.

Belfast Telegraph

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