Top doctors claim free tests put lives at risk

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TWO senior gynaecologists in the Mid West have claimed that women have been put in danger by Health Minister Simon Harris’ decision to offer free smear tests.

And one of them says delays caused by the high number of free tests will cost lives.

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Dr Beatrice Neufeldt, who was director of the Well Woman Clinic in Limerick when it participated in a pilot roll-out of the Cervical Smear programme, told The Limerick Post that free tests for women who are not at risk, have clogged the system to such an extent that “it’s now taking four months to get results back”.

This is in comparison to a turnaround time of a few weeks that applied before the Minister offered the free smears for all women in May. In contrast, it takes only two weeks for test results to be delivered in the UK.

Dr Beatrice Neufeldt

“By the time an abnormality is detected and a woman goes through all of the other referrals and tests necessary, that could be the difference between being able to offer treatment which can cure the cancer and treatment which can only help with the symptoms,” Dr Neufeldt explained.

She said that offering the free tests to every woman “has had the opposite effect. Instead of protecting women this has put them at real risk. Women were falsely reassured”.

The doctor who now runs the Personal Medical Clinic in Castletroy said she sends her patients smears to a clinic in Germany and has results back in a matter of days.

“If there is a suspicious smear, I can get it turned around in a day. Four months is ridiculous. This should never have happened”.

“The cervical smear programme is a fantastic diagnostic tool. It is the only one which can detect abnormalities before any cancer develops but it is far less effective when there are delays of this kind,” she said.

Dr Neufeldt said that she has put a number of articles about the smear test on the clinic’s Facebook page for women who have questions.

The delay originally came to light following a freedom of information request from on-line publication, the Journal.ie

In the article, a Mid West gynaecologist is quoted as having written to Minister Simon Harris, warning him that the free smear offer was dangerous.

In a letter sent to Minister Harris in October, the senior clinician said there had been a 300 per cent increase in referrals in the Mid West for further examination but with no addition supports or resources being allocated to the relevant unit.

He said in the latter that the “first delayed diagnosis has arisen in our unit from a smear test taken in June 2018 and only now reported”.

There was no response from either the HSE or the Department of Health at time of going to press.