Thousands of women miss out on life-saving smear tests

Women are missing out on vital health checks.

Women are missing out on vital health checks. - Credit: Archant

Thousands of North Somerset women missed their last smear test and health leaders fear the pandemic will prevent even more people from accessing the health checks.

Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for screening every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 are offered appointments every five years.

The life-saving programme helps to prevent cancer by revealing early warning signs, but a survey by Jo’ Cervical Cancer Trust has found some women have avoided making appointments due to fears of catching Covid-19.

NHS Digital data shows 77 per cent of the 54,854 women 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 76 per cent over the same period in 2018, it meant 12,391 women in the area were missing out on the potentially life-saving programme shortly before the Covid-19 crisis struck.

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.

“While it can be difficult if you are unable to get an appointment at the moment, providers of cervical screening services and the government are weighing up the risk of a delayed appointment against the risk of coronavirus. The aim is to keep you, and health workers, as protected as possible.”

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Cervical screening requires a test that looks for changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer.

A survey carried out by the trust revealed delayed and cancelled cervical screening appointments have left nearly four in 10 women feeling worried, while 12 per cent said they are less likely to attend than before the pandemic.

A quarter of women said they are worried about their risk of catching the coronavirus if they attend a screening, while fears around safety, not wanting to put ‘additional strain’ on the NHS were also selected as reasons for concern.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and director of primary care for the NHS in England, said plans are in place to start offering screening appointments as soon as possible, and measures will ‘soon be in place’ to protect patients from the coronavirus.

She said: “While cervical cancer takes a long time to develop, we would strongly encourage any patients who are worried to seek help from their GP if they have symptoms, and if you are invited to attend a screening appointment, please do.”