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December 2018

Uptake of cervical screening drops for 4th year

More women than ever before were invited for cervical screening from 2017 to March 2018, according to the most recently available figures, but the number taking up the offer dropped for the fourth consecutive year.

New data from NHS Digital show that 4.46 million women aged 25 to 64 were invited for screening in the last financial year, but only 3.18 million were tested. The percentage recorded as ‘screened adequately’ was 71.4%, down from 72% the previous year and the fourth year in a row that coverage has declined.

In October this year, Capita, the firm responsible for delivery primary care support services, admitted that a significant number of cervical screening letters were not sent out when they were due between January and October this year – equivalent to around 1% of eligible women – and furthermore, a further 4,508 test result letters were not sent out. These are reported to have included 180 letters warning patients that their results were abnormal.

The BMA described the failures as ‘appalling’. GP Committee chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error.’

He said that many women were already reluctant to attend screening appointments, and that such incidents would risk even fewer women attending.

Dr Vautrey has written to NHS England demanding that Capita should be stripped of the contract.

Capita has come under fire for a catalogue of errors relating to patient record transfers, and GP payments and pensions, which have left practices facing severe cashflow problems.

The National Audit Office has also been highly critical of NHS England’s decision to outsource all primary care support services to Capita in a £30m, seven year deal, which almost three years into the contract, is still beset with problems.