Tens of thousands of women missing out on potentially life-saving screening tests
Tens of thousands of eligible West Sussex women have missed their last smear test, latest figures show, amid warnings the coronavirus crisis has stoked anxiety over getting the health checks.
A survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed the NHS was facing new challenges to attendance amid the pandemic, as some women avoided making appointments over fear of catching Covid-19 or putting extra strain on the health service.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for screening every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 receive invitations every five years.
NHS Digital data showed 75 per cent of the 223,874 women in West Sussex eligible for a smear test by the end of 2019 had been screened – the point at which the latest data is available. Although that was up from 74 per cent over the same period in 2018, it meant 56,710 women in the area were missing out on the potentially life-saving programme shortly before the Covid-19 crisis struck.
Cervical screening requires a test that looks for changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer.
A small sample of cells is taken from the cervix using a soft brush.
Across England, 72 per cent of eligible women had been screened by the end of
December, up slightly from 71 per cent the year before.
Cervical screening services across England are slowly unpausing following disruption during lockdown, which saw invites suspended and appointments delayed.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said while low uptake was ‘already a concern’ before Covid-19, the pandemic has created further barriers to attendance.
A survey of 851 women carried out by the trust reveals delayed and cancelled cervical screening appointments have left nearly four in ten women feeling worried, while 12 per cent said they are less likely to attend than before the pandemic. Some 13 per cent thought was best to put off getting a smear test at the moment.
A quarter of women said they are worried about their risk of catching the coronavirus if they attend a screening, while fears around safety (11 per cent), not wanting to put ‘additional strain’ on the NHS (15 per cent) and uncertainty over changes to services were also selected as reasons for concern.
Robert Music, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Cervical screening isn’t always the easiest test and we must try to prevent the coronavirus making it even harder. We want every woman to have the information and support they need to feel able to make decisions about their health.”