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February 5th 2018

Jodi Newton

Thousands more smear test results must be reviewed after potentially life-threatening errors revealed

Jodi Newton

Jodi Newton

Senior Solicitor, Clinical Negligence

Thousands more smear test results must be reviewed after potentially life-threatening errors revealed

It is both worrying and disappointing to learn that cervical cancer test results of thousands of women in the Essex area may now need to be reviewed as a number of patients tested by the same lab were wrongly given the all-clear.

It is both worrying and disappointing to learn that cervical cancer test results of thousands of women in the Essex area may now need to be reviewed as a number of patients tested by the same lab were wrongly given the all-clear.

Patients have been contacted and told their results have changed from negative to inadequate (needs repeating), borderline (usually needs further testing), or low or high grade (usually suggesting increased risk).

It follows a review of samples screened by the Pathology First laboratory – a joint venture between a private testing firm and Southend University Hospital and Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts.

Concerns were raised following a visit by the Screening Quality Assurance Service, and so far 17 women have been found to have been given the wrong results.

This follows the reanalysis of 900 tests carried out between April 2016 and September 2017, with a further 1,600 test results now due to be looked at again.

Women aged between 24 and 29 who underwent their first smear test, and a number of women in their 60s, are amongst those whose test results are being reexamined. Public Health England has said that it could result in tens of thousands of samples being looked at again, dating back as far as two years.

Cervical cancer is one of most preventable – but only with early diagnosis

Health officials have been quick to issue a statement saying they understand such a situation is potentially worrying for the women involved and have described it as an ‘isolated incident’.

Many of those affected are likely to have clear results when re-tested, but with 17 cases already identified where women need further testing from 900 reviews, it would seem likely more will now be found, should thousands more tests be looked at again.

As a solicitor who sees the huge impact late diagnosis can have on patients’ long-term health as a medical negligence claims specialist, it is certainly my strong opinion that this is what should now happen.

Errors have been found, and it would simply be unacceptable to just reexamine only a select, small sample number of cases.

Cervical cancer is one of the most deadly but most preventable forms of cancer in women in the UK, with around 3,000 cases diagnosed and around 900 deaths every year, yet the smear test is one of the most common, inexpensive, and accurate tests for screening cancer. Most importantly, it can identify pre-cancerous abnormalities so that it is easily treated.

There are very high cure rates and the vast majority of cervical cancer related deaths are preventable with regular smear tests, but a failure to diagnose cervical cancer at a sufficiently early stage can be fatal.

In light of that, to learn of thousands of smear samples potentially needing re-testing is both worrying for all those involved, and disappointing.

It is certainly possible that the outcome and treatment options for patients may have been affected by delays in diagnosis, and in such circumstances, victims would be entitled to compensation to reflect any avoidable treatment, impact on their life expectancy, their pain and suffering and any other financial consequences caused by the misdiagnosis of their smear tests.

Given the many public awareness campaigns to raise the numbers of women having cervical cancer smear tests, particularly for those aged under 35 for whom it is most common, this is certainly unfortunate and does little to instill confidence in our health system.

Reviews of all tests where there is any possibility of an error being made is now a must to put that confidence back, and more importantly make sure no cervical cancer cases are missed.

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