Women identified with potential problems by CervicalCheck screening are facing delays in follow-up investigations, it was confirmed yesterday.
Many patients are not being seen within recommended timelines due to pressure on clinics.
The women are referred for a procedure known as a colposcopy to find out whether they need treatment to remove any abnormal cells that could potentially turn into cervical cancer.
The target for referral of women with high grade abnormalities is to treat 90pc in four weeks – but this is being met for only 81pc of the patients.
Some 90pc of women with lower grade changes, deemed less clinically urgent, need to be examined in eight weeks but only 76pc are getting an appointment within the deadline.
An HSE spokeswoman said: “We have seen a significant increase in referrals from GPs, which have added to the pressure in the colposcopy service.
“We have also seen an unprecedented increase in participation by women in the cervical screening programme.”
The extra free tests announced last year by Health Minister Simon Harris following the CervicalCheck scandal also led to more women being sent forward for further screening.
“We recognise that this may, in some cases, lead to longer waiting times than normal for women,” said the spokeswoman. “Performance is monitored by the local hospital in each of the 15 public colposcopy units.”
The HSE spokeswoman added that it was “working closely with the colposcopy clinics to assist them in improving waiting times”.
Measures include holding extra clinical sessions to reduce waiting lists and stepping up efforts to fill vacant slots when appointments are cancelled.
They are also working to have increased referrals categorised “in a prompt manner”.
GPs are being asked to refer women for colposcopy only when it is clinically indicated to do so.
“These measures have assisted in reducing the pressure on the clinics,” said the spokeswoman. “In addition we secured funding in 2019 to increase resources in colposcopy and this is currently being rolled out. This will take some months to but will lead to improvements in the longer term.”