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August 2019

Cervical screening inaccessible to women with disabilities

Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has found that women with physical disabilities are struggling to access cervical screening. Two thirds (63%) say they have been unable to attend as a result of their disability with many facing resistance and stigma.

The charity is concerned that a lack of equipment, clear policies and, in parts of the country, substandard care, is putting this group at an increased risk of cervical cancer.

The charity surveyed 335 women living with a physical disability and uncovered significant inequalities and wide variation in the opportunities available to women. Many women reported not having had a test for many years, some since they became disabled.

Almost 9 out 10 (88%) said it was harder for women with a disability to attend cervical screening, while 49% chose not to attend due to a previous bad experience related to their disability or worry about how people might react.

In the UK, there are around 18 million people with a disability or long term health condition. Over half of women with a disability report mobility impairment.

In its new report Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has found that essential equipment, such as hoists or height-adjustable beds are not readily available. Just 1% of respondents said that their GP surgery provides a hoist, yet 23% say they need one to get onto the examination couch.

Inconsistency in provision of home visits or referrals to alternative, accessible venues was also found. More than one-in-five, 22%, said that they are unable to leave the house but their GP surgery doesn’t offer home visits with only 3% confident that their GP surgery provides a home visit.

One in five women said it was been assumed that they are not sexually active because of their disability. Some said they were told to sign waivers saying they did not want screening.

The charity is calling for GP practices to review their policies and practice, along with training and inspections to address adjustments for women with a wide range of physical disabilities. It is further calling for research looking at the most effective way of offering cervical screening to women with a physical disability, including feasibility of HPV self-sampling.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: ‘It is not acceptable that women with a physical disability are often faced with additional hurdles or even being denied access to this potentially lifesaving test. It is worrying to see the level of stigma that exists regarding sex and disability and this must change.’