Screening Deal Fails Test, Say Experts

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Byline: By MADELEINE BRINDLEY Western Mail

A group of senior clinicians have spoken of their unhappiness about the new system adopted in Wales for routine smear tests. The 18 consultant pathologists and senior laboratory managers have signed a letter opposing the decision to use the 'unfamiliar' SurePath liquid-based cytology system.

They claim the system - for performing and reading smear tests - is more 'labour-intensive' than an alternative which was used in Welsh laboratories during a pilot project.

They have also questioned the procurement process, which concluded a week ago.

Dr Dai Lloyd, Plaid Cymru AM for South West Wales, who has highlighted the issue, said the discontent was evidence of a 'schism' between clinicians and administrators in the NHS.

He said, 'We must have a rethink about this because we cannot have so many clinicians unhappy about this decision.

'But this issue also exposes the huge schism between the administrative and clinical arms of health services in Wales - in this case in Cervical Screening Wales.

'We need to have a strategy whereby any schism or perceived schism can be smoothed over.

'We have a decision which a lot of people are unhappy about - we must now focus on how we overcome this for the good of all women in Wales,' he added.

But Cervical Screening Wales has stood by its decision to award the five-year, pounds 600,000-a-year contract to SurePath, saying it is 'confident in the professionalism of our staff in implementing this new technology'.

Four Welsh laboratories were among the first to use liquid-based cytology - a new way of performing smear tests which cuts down on the number of inadequate tests performed and the number of unnecessary repeat smears a woman must have - as part of a pilot project to assess the new technology.

During this trial period the laboratories had been using an alternative liquid-based cytology system called Cytyc.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommended last year that liquid-based cytology should be used for all smear tests performed in England and Wales in the future.

But it did not recommend which system the various cervical screening services in England and Wales - it said there was 'insufficient evidence' to recommend one above another.

In one of the first contracts to be signed since that decision was made, Cervical Screening Wales chose SurePath as its liquid-based cytology system for the whole of Wales, to the dismay of this group of 18 senior laboratory managers and consultant pathologists. …