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2,000 additional women may be affected by cervical cancer false negative results

Exclusive Over 2,000 more cervical cancer smear samples will need to be re-examined following the issues that were uncovered at a pathology site serving over 100 GP practices in south east England, Pulse can reveal.

This comes as NHS England re-examinations have revealed that 31 women were incorrectly given the all-clear, despite their smear tests revealing symptoms related to cervical cancer.

Pulse revealed earlier this year that 2,500 samples would have to be re-examined after issues were uncovered across Southend, Basildon and Thurrock in Essex last year.

But now NHS England has said this number has grown by 2,168 to 4,668 samples that require re-examination, with GP leaders saying this would have ‘potentially significant’ consequences for GP practices.

Meanwhile, re-examination to date has resulted in 31 women being told they have abnormal results, despite previously being given the all-clear; and 95 women have been told to re-visit their GP practice for a new smear test.

Problems at the Pathology First site, which is run by Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Integrated Pathology Partnerships, were first uncovered during a quality assurance visit in June 2017 and revealed by Pulse earlier this year

Public Health England’s newly published report on the visit, concluded that: ‘A number of working practices, particularly within the laboratory, compromise service quality and potentially patient safety’.

Pam Hall, screening and immunisation lead for NHS England (East), said: ‘We have now contacted all women whose test results may have changed and are contacting those who need to be re-screened offering appropriate follow up, advice and information.

‘We are closely monitoring Pathology First to ensure the necessary improvements are made to provide a high-quality service, now and in the future for the women in South Essex.’

PHE director of screening Professor Anne Mackie added: ‘The safety and quality of cervical screening for women is PHE’s prime concern.

‘Our Screening Quality Assurance Service is working closely with the serious incident team to ensure quality standards are met and to provide expert advice and support into the management of this incident.’

After issues were unveiled at the lab, patients were advised to contact their GPs for reassurance.

And RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘In general practice we have great empathy with other NHS services struggling with resource and workforce pressures.

‘However, the implications for GPs and our teams will potentially be significant, as patients seek reassurance and to find out where they go from here and NHS England must ensure there are enough resources in the system to cope with any additional demand that might follow this news.’

She added that although NHS England was ‘clearly taking steps to rectify this error, and communicate with the women potentially affected’, it was ‘essential’ that it also ‘take steps to ensure this, or something similar, never happens again’.

The news comes as national take-up of cervical cancer screening recently fell short of the 80% target, at just 69.7%, between April and June last year. And just one of 207 CCGs met the cervical cancer screening target for under-50s.


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