New research has found that delayed and cancelled cervical screening appointments have left many women feeling worried (39%). Yet, as screening programmes across the UK restart, around one in eight women (12%) say they feel less likely to attend than before the COVID-19 pandemic and similar numbers (13%) think it is best to delay screening at present.
The survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found fears around safety (11%), not wanting to put ‘additional strain’ on the NHS (15%), and shielding or protecting others (13%). A quarter of women are worried about their risk of infection if they attend, and a third (36%) of women say they are unsure of what to expect if they go to a GP practice for a cervical screening now.
It is estimated over two million people1 across the UK have been unable to access screening or cancer treatment over the past few months as the NHS has responded to COVID-19. Screening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been paused, while in England some services had to reschedule appointments.
The charity’s chief executive, Robert Music, said: ‘Cervical screening isn’t always the easiest test and we must try to prevent 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. This includes understanding the measures GP practices are putting in to keep patients safe. For those working in primary care, being mindful of new concerns as a result of coronavirus is important to ensure the right support can be given to women due cervical screening.’
Five million women are invited for cervical screening each year in the UK with around 3.5 million taking up their invitation.
The charity has launched new FAQs2 to address common questions such as ‘What do you do if your test has been cancelled? Is a delay dangerous? Is it safe to attend? Is the test the same still? What happens when you go to a GP now?’ It aims to reassure women that, while visiting the GP might look a bit different, cervical screening itself remains the same.
It is also calling for innovation such as self-sampling to be further explored to help restore cervical screening across the UK and reduce the pressure on primary care.
One in seven women feel safe going for screening at the moment, yet the same number feel anxious at the prospect of having another health issue to think about.
1. https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/ 2020/06/01/impact-of-coronavirus-on-cancer-services-revealed-over-2-million-people-waiting-for-screening-tests-and-treatments/
2. https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/coronavirus/ faqs