Women may be forced to wait for months for the screening results for cervical cancer, because the planned closure of several dozen laboratories left the service in a state of "crash," said Guardian.
The crisis was caused by a sharp increase in the number of women participating in smear tests after the public information campaign undertaken last week. The campaign coincides with the exodus of biomedical scientists due to the restructuring process that will reduce nearly 50 hospital screening laboratories by nine this summer.
Alison Cropper, chairwoman of the British Association for Cytopathology and a biomedical consultant, said the Public Health England campaign was launched in the "worst possible time".
"The service is in a state of collapse," she said.
However, the quality of testing is probably not compromised, she said that "badly thought out" campaign time can make women frustrated, overly restless and less likely to screen in the future. Cropper said PHE did not pay attention to requests to change the wording on standard screening lists, which informs that the results will be sent within 14 days, despite the warning that some laboratories already have arrears of several months.
The government last week made the first ever cervical screening campaign after official data revealed that the percentage of women participating in the tests is at a 20-year low level. Cervical screening tests, also known as smear tests, are free under the NHS for all women aged between 25 and 64. A street plot and a woman having a live swab test on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire program.
However, the increase in absorption has occurred, as many researchers are leaving after deciding to centralize the screening system.
Traditionally, swab tests look for abnormal changes in cervical cells that could indicate the earliest stages of cancer. Samples showing possible low-grade lesions are tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. Those who have low changes and HPV are then referred for further research (colposcopy).
However, studies have shown that changing the order of laboratory screens and HPV testing first detects precancerous lesions more effectively. Still this year, the NHS will go to the first HPV testing system, which is also less labor intensive, and centralizes work from nearly 50 laboratories to nine large centers to be named next month.
In the meantime, many researchers from smaller laboratories who have not applied for contracts under the new system have little motivation to stay until the transfer.
A senior biomedical scientist from a small hospital lab, which will be closed at the end of this year, told the Guardian that almost half of the staff left him at a time when the number of samples coming to the laboratory increased fivefold. A white board in a laboratory teahouse that usually displays the number of samples every week, now just reads "a lot," she said. "We violate the time of patient's stay, family doctors are upset, nurses ask us what the hell is going on" – said the scientist who wants to remain anonymous. "It's a complete mess."
Cropper said that "no one in the profession" would agree with the decision to switch to the first HPV tests, but the implementation has not been thought over. "In smaller laboratories, one or two people leaving or suffering from stress have a disastrous effect," she said.
Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, said: "Screening can stop cancer from starting, and estimates show that if everyone is regular, you can prevent 83% of deaths. Since the start of the program, it has been estimated that 5,000 victims have been saved every year, but the number of screening for cervical cancer has been low for 20 years. That's why we launched this campaign.
"Delays in women who get results are far from what we want, but it is important that women continue to receive a test to detect abnormalities that can develop in cancer many years later.
"We worked closely with NHS England to ensure that the screening system was previously notified. It is more important that we increase the number of women subjected to security checks and prevent the loss of more lives than they delayed what was long expected. "