'Goody effect' causes huge delay in smear test results

Surge in demand for screening results in two-month wait for women

Women are waiting for up to two months for cervical screening results in some parts of the UK after a "substantial" increase in demand for the test following Jade Goody's public battle with the disease.

Health Trusts in England have seen waiting times increase from two weeks to as much as eight weeks in some cases due to the surge in the number of test result requests.

Laboratory staff are working overtime in parts of the country to meet the Department of Health "expected standard" that women should receive the results within six weeks. Wales has also seen waiting times rise. Since January, some trusts in England have also seen shortages in the equipment used to take cell samples. The NHS Cancer Screening Programme said there are currently no shortages in test kits.

Reality TV star Goody, 27, died from cervical cancer early on Mother's Day last month.

Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust said that, due to a doubling of demand for the test, processing time is now around six to eight weeks, up from an average of three to four weeks between October and December. Westminster PCT said the current wait for results is within eight weeks following a "significant increase in demand".

West Essex PCT, which covers Upshire, where Goody lived, said it had also seen turnaround times rise for screening results.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire County PCT said staff were working overtime to cope with demand after the workload increased by around 40 per cent. In Wales, women currently have to wait about four weeks on average for their results after laboratory workloads increased, according to Cervical Screening Wales.

Screening is intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix that could, if untreated, develop into cancer. At least three PCTs in England said they had seen shortages in cervical screening test kits this year.

Barking and Dagenham PCT said there had been a "temporary shortage" of cervical smear sampling kits at Queen's Hospital laboratory in Romford in February but it was "resolved" within a week. A spokeswoman for South of Tyne and Wear PCT said there had been "a few isolated incidents of shortages" which were addressed within 48 hours. At least seven PCTs, including Doncaster, Wiltshire, Central Lancashire and Gateshead and South Tyneside, said that although they had seen a rise in the number of women taking the test, waiting times had not been affected.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are aware that there has been increased demand on cervical screening services due to recent media attention and some laboratories are experiencing backlogs, but these are being dealt with at a local level."

In England, women aged 25 to 49 are invited for cervical screenings every three years and those aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

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