Health P.E.I. clears months-long wait for pap test results

A six-month wait time for pap test results earlier this year has been reduced to six to seven weeks, says Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam.

Province changing over to new technology for pap tests

Staffing shortages were an issue with returning timely pap test results earlier this year. (Shutterstock / La corneja artesa)

A six-month wait time for pap test results earlier this year has been reduced to six to seven weeks, says Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam.

The backlog was part of a transition to HPV screening, a different way to detect cervical cancer. The new test detects precancerous cells through a DNA analysis of a cervical swab, as opposed to analyzing changes in cells.

As the switch was underway, staff who had been in the cytology lab found new positions within Health P.E.I., which led to a shortage of staff to do the tests.

"Because P.E.I. is so small, it doesn't take more than a couple of people to switch jobs and it can have a big impact on what we're able to do," said Gardam.

The winter COVID-19 wave also took a toll, leading to many staff calling in sick.

Another pandemic wave could slow the testing transition, says Dr. Michael Gardam. (Tony Davis/CBC)

The transition is now back on track, he said. The new equipment is being tested to ensure it is working properly.

"This will be a great step forward," said Gardam.

"The remarkable thing about PCR testing is it's more accurate and it's cheaper. How often does that happen?"

Pandemic could derail plans

Health P.E.I. is planning to have the switchover complete by the end of the year.

If there is another COVID-19 pandemic wave, however, that could create delays. The new process uses PCR technology, the same technology that is used to test for COVID.

"The one thing, of course, that could derail us considerably would be if we had a big wave of COVID again and had to do a lot of PCR testing again. Those would be the same people who are doing this screening," said Gardam.

"The country wants to move on from the pandemic; health care can't move on. We're still experiencing some of the challenges we had a while ago."

P.E.I. is one of the first provinces, along with Quebec, to implement PCR screening for cervical cancer.

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown


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