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National Cancer Screening Service Publishes Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening

(15 Jan 2010)

At an event attended by Ms Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Health and Children, the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) today published its Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening.

The primary objective of cervical screening is to reduce the incidence and mortality from cervical cancer by detecting cell changes before they become cancerous. In Ireland there are on average 180 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed per year. Half of all new cases are in women aged under 46 years, and the average age at death from cervical cancer is 56.

The NCSS Quality Assurance (QA) Committee was established to review international standards in cervical screening, recommend best practice, monitor and evaluate achievement of the recommended standards; and monitor and support adherence by service providers. The QA Committee is independently chaired by Mr Simon Kelly former Chief Executive of the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening are the result of a collaborative process undertaken between representatives of each step of the cervical screening process – Programme Administration, Primary Care, Cytopathology, Histopathology and Colposcopy. Three specialty groups of the QA Committee, Smeartaker/Primary Care Group, Cytology/Histology Group and Colposcopy/Gynae Oncology Group, along with Programme Administration developed the Guidelines. 

The National Cancer Screening Service convened an international expert peer review of the proposed quality assurance standards for CervicalCheck in August 2009. The published Guidelines represent a consensus view from the experts involved.

Commenting on the publication, Minister Mary Harney TD said she was "very pleased to launch the Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening which would help ensure that the women of Ireland receive a quality assured screening service in line with the highest international standards".

Commenting, Tony O’Brien Chief Executive Officer of the NCSS said: “To achieve maximum public health benefit from a population-based cervical cancer screening programme, every aspect of the service delivered to women must be fully quality assured. Quality assurance is the foundation on which a successful programme is built. From initial invitation, through screening and treatment every individual involved in every step of the screening process must adhere to the highest standards set by the Programme. No screening test is 100 per cent accurate, that is why we must ensure that the service delivered to women in Ireland is one in which they can have undoubted confidence.”

CervicalCheck – Ireland’s first national cervical screening programme became available to over 1.1 million eligible women aged 25 to 60 on 1 September 2008. When the Programme launched, it adopted the UK NHSCSP BSCCP/RCOG standards in September pending the publication of the NCSS Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening.

Over time, a successful national, quality assured cervical screening programme in Ireland has the potential to reduce current incidence rates of cervical cancer by up to 80 per cent per annum in the screened population.

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The National Cancer Screening Service is part of the Health Service Executive's Cancer Control Programme. It encompasses BreastCheck The National Breast Screening Programme,
CervicalCheck The National Cervical Screening Programme and BowelScreen - The National Bowel Screening Programme.

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