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Women put off cervical screening during COVID-19 pandemic

New survey reveals that COVID-19 fears and not wanting to put a strain on the NHS are among the reasons why women are not keeping cervical cancer screening appointments

Picture shows smear kit to test for papilloma virus and cervical cancer
Picture: iStock

Fears about COVID-19 are discouraging women from attending cervical cancer screening appointments, says a leading cancer charity.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed 851 women between 29 May and 9 June and found one quarter were worried about the risk of contracting COVID-19 if they went to a cervical cancer screening appointment.

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. This includes understanding the measures GP practices and sexual health services are putting in to keep patients safe.’

Concerns include shielding or protecting others and not wanting to add to strain on NHS

Concerns highlighted by respondents in the survey included safety (11%), not wanting to put additional strain on the NHS (15%), and shielding or protecting others (13%) from the virus.

Around one in eight women (12%) said they thought it was best to delay going for cervical screening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Music said nurses working in primary care need to be mindful of the new concerns and ensure women due to have cervical cancer screening receive the right support and information.

It is estimated that more than 2 million people 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.

Innovations such as self-sampling should be explored further

Screening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been paused, while in England some services have had to reschedule appointments.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has launched new information on its website to help women understand how cervical screening may have changed.

It is also calling for innovations such as self-sampling to be further explored to help restore cervical screening across the UK and reduce pressure on primary care.

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