$16m bill for government’s cervical cancer bungle

A new cervical cancer test replacing the pap smear will save more lives, Health Minister says.

A new cervical cancer test replacing the pap smear will save more lives, Health Minister says. Photo: Getty

Taxpayers will cough up more than $16 million for the federal government’s bungling of the rollout of a new test said to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer by 30 per cent.

Federal health department boss Martin Bowles has revealed officials have known since before Christmas there was a risk the May 1 deadline for the rollout of the new test would not be met.

But the delay was only revealed last week by a leaked department communique. The new test is now set to be available from December 1.

From May 1, the two-yearly pap test was supposed to be replaced by an improved five-yearly cervical screening test administered by one national register, along with the bowel cancer screening program.

Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has told a parliamentary committee taxpayers will spend more than $16.5 million on emergency measures put in place to ensure women can still be tested until December.

That includes a $3 million compensation to pathologists to retain staff who would have been redeployed or let go from May 1.

In an embarrassing backdown, Mr Bowles was forced to admit attempts to blame the delay on Labor were untrue, given the legislation was passed two weeks before the October 30 deadline.

He said combining state and territory registers into one had proved more complex than initially thought.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he told the hearing.

He defended the decision to give the $220 million contract for the register to Telstra Health, accepting the department was partly to blame for the delay.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King says it’s appalling the government didn’t tell women about the delay back in December.

“After paying $220 million to Telstra, the delay is now going to cost taxpayers around $20 million more – imagine what that money could do for something like gynaecological research,” she told AAP.

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