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Tens of thousands missed out on cervical cancer screening

By Dayna Farrington | Health | Published:

Tens of thousands of women in the Black Country and Staffordshire missed their smear tests, latest figures show.

It comes amid warnings the coronavirus crisis has increased anxiety over getting health checks.

A survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed the NHS is facing new challenges over attendances amid the pandemic, as some women avoid making appointments over the fear of catching Covid-19 or putting extra strain on the health service.

Women aged 25 to 49 years old are invited for screening every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 years old receive invitations every five years.

NHS Digital data shows that 69 per cent of the 72,637 women in Wolverhampton who were eligible for a smear test by the end of 2019 had been screened – meaning 22,433 women in the area were missing out.

In Sandwell, 68 per cent of the 91,742 eligible women had their smear test – leaving 29,031 women missing out.

In Dudley during 2019, 21,493 women didn’t go for their smear test out of 80,661 who were eligible, while in Walsall 19,696 missed out on the test out of 72,941 who were eligible, according to the data.

And in Staffordshire, 76 per cent of the 217,913 women eligible had been screened – with 52,012 not undergoing the test by the end of 2019.

Cervical screening services across England are slowly restarting following disruption during lockdown, which saw invites suspended and appointments delayed.

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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 10 women feeling worried, while 12 per cent say they are less likely to attend than before the pandemic. Some 13 per cent think it is 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, not wanting to put "additional strain" on the NHS and uncertainty over changes to services were also selected as reasons for concern.

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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."

A spokesman from NHS England and Improvement in the Midlands and the NHS Black Country and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: "Screening appointments continue to be offered to women across the Black Country and West Birmingham and we would encourage those invited to attend an appointment to do so, as this is five minutes that could save a life.

"As cervical cancer takes a long time to develop, we would also strongly encourage any patients who are worried to seek help from their GP if they have symptoms."

Dr Gary Free, GP and chair of NHS Cannock Chase CCG, said: “As with many aspects of health and care, the cervical cancer screening programme has been affected by coronavirus and fewer tests have been carried out in the last few months. However, services are now being restored and it is important that as many women as possible attend cervical screening appointments when they receive invitations.

“Women who have had tests cancelled or delayed, should contact their GP surgery to rebook.”

Dayna Farrington

By Dayna Farrington
Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

Reporter for the Express & Star based at Wolverhampton.

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