Up to 6,000 women in Ireland will need repeat CervicalCheck smear tests due to testing issues.

The HSE has confirmed that a problem was reported by an external laboratory over delays in processing initial tests.

The HSE said in November 2018 Quest Laboratories advised CervicalCheck, the state service that provides free smear tests to women, of a “specific problem in relation to standard HPV tests that have been carried out outside of the manufacturer’s recommended timeframe.”

HPV testing is an extra screening which is carried out on low-grade abnormality samples.

Up to 6,000 women will likely be called for a repeat smear, as their smear samples were not tested in the recommended time. CervicalCheck will be contacting affected women by the end of next week.

An expert clinical team has been set up to establish the facts with the lab and review the situation.

Dr Peter McKenna, Clinical Director of the HSE’s Women and Infants Health Programme, said: “Our clinical review has assured us that this issue poses little risk to women’s health.

Dr McKenna said it was a “precaution” that some women would be recalled for a second test, due to the length of time it took to process their first one.

Free smear tests were offered to women in Ireland at the height of the CervicalCheck controversy, which led to a 20% increase in testing levels and 42,000 repeat tests taken. Women are currently facing backlogs of up to six months as they wait on test results.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday warned the Dáil that CervicalCheck was in jeopardy.

He said: “The additional volume of tests as a result of the decision has created unacceptable and enormous backlogs and women have been waiting for up to six months for the results of their tests.

“It is my understanding that the delay has impacted on the quality and efficacy of the tests and rendered a significant number of them invalid.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that laboratories have agreed to undertake additional recruitment, to provide overtime and to manage annual leave in an effort to minimise and reduce the backlog.

“In addition, the HSE is trying to source additional screening and laboratory capacity which would improve turnaround times for results,” Mr Varadkar said.