Dr Felix Lustman, a GP, had been using the wrong technique for five years. Although his method 'was discussed' with him in May 1992 it emerged yesterday that he had carried on.
Instead of using a speculum, which holds open the vagina so that the cervix can be clearly viewed, Dr Lustman 'inserted the spatula with a finger into the vagina to take the smear and took the smears by feeling', Dr Mary Jepson, director of public health for Gateshead, said yesterday.
Dr Jepson said the normal procedure was to use the speculum to look at the cervix, to use a spatula to scrape off the area viewed, and then to withdraw the spatula and transfer the material on to a slide.
She said that Dr Lustman 'could not see the cervix to take a complete sample, although in a lot of cases the sample would have been good enough'. Some of the scraped material may also have been lost on withdrawing the spatula.
'So on two points there is a possibility that the smear would not be a total sample and it is possible some of the cells which we were trying to pick up would not have been picked up or lost.'
Dr Jepson said she had not come across this technique being used before. 'The process was not in accordance with nationally accepted clinical practice.'
She said that statistically 'only a very small number, possibly 10', were likely to be found to have problems - the cell changes which precede cancer, or cervical cancer.
The Gateshead Health Authority has identified 744 women who need to be recalled for replacement tests. Of these, 640 still live in Gateshead.
Bill Worth, chief executive of Gateshead Health Authority, said the authority had the addresses of 87 of a further 100 women who had moved out of the district and had posted letters to them.
He knew the health districts where the other 13 women were living and was expecting to trace them. The whereabouts of four women were unknown.
The scare follows earlier ones this year at Peacehaven in East Sussex and Birmingham.
A Gateshead helpline has been set up on: 0800 317 166.Reuse content