NHS apologises for two month delay to smear test letters

NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) has apologised for a two month delay to around 15,000 cervical screening invitation letters due to a technical fault.

NSS has apologised for the delay.
NSS has apologised for the delay.

The health board said it had recently been made aware that no letters were sent out during an eight day period in August.

The 15,000 people affected will receive their delayed letters in the next few days.

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NSS said it had worked “urgently” with the external supplier to get the delayed letters sent out as soon as possible, and that it has taken steps to make sure the issue never happens again.

“Additional safeguards have been put in place and we continue to closely monitor and review the situation,” said Allan Wilson, Clinical Lead for the Cervical Screening Programme.

“We are doing everything possible to minimise any impact on those who are affected. Participants affected by the issue who wish to have a cervical screening test will be prioritised within sample-taking locations.

“Their tests will also be processed as quickly as possible within the laboratory to ensure there is no further delay.

“We deeply regret any concern that this incident may have caused.”

The cervical screening test or smear test checks for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes 99 per cent of all cervical cancers.

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The service was paused during the Covid-19 pandemic but has now resumed in line with the remobilsation of the NHS, with about a six month delay due to the pandemic.

Screening will continue at GP practices regardless of whether the area has been placed into local Covid-19 restrictions, NHS Scotland has said.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, said the glitch may have caused further anxiety during an uncertain time.

However he stressed that the two month delay is unlikely to have negatively affected the health of patients.

He said: “This incident comes when we are living in very uncertain times and for those affected we know this news may cause additional anxiety.

“It is important to know that HPV and cell changes take many years to develop into cervical cancer, not months, and the immune system will often get rid of them without the need for treatment, so please try not to worry.

“The steps being taken by NHS Scotland will hopefully ensure events such as this do not happen again and that the cervical screening programme continues to improve.”

The Scottish Cervical Screening Programme issues around 1.5 million letters a year.

Cervical screening for eligible individuals is offered every five years for those between 25 and 64 years of age.

HPV is very common, with about four in five people in Scotland catching it at some point in their lives. As there are usually no symptoms, people have it for months or years without knowing it.

If HPV is found during the smear test then checks are done for any cell changes.

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