Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust responds to the release of the annual cervical screening uptake statistics for England by NHS Digital. These figures cover the period from April 2019 – March 2020:
In a ’normal’ year an increase in attendance could be a glimmer of hope. However, this year it must come with a dose of reality as these numbers represent the state of play before the pandemic. It is hard to say what the picture is now, but we have new challenges to contend with as a result of COVID-19 which include disruptions to services and public uncertainty about attending at the moment.
The small increase also includes the impact of Public Health England’s national campaign last year. What this new data shows is there is a clear need for systemic change in the cervical screening programme to see a bigger impact on uptake. HPV self-sampling is something we have long been calling for.
There have long been widespread inequalities in access to screening. We are concerned, that not only does the pandemic mean they have not been addressed but instead widened.
Our research shows that groups at higher risk of getting ill from coronavirus, including those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, are now less likely to take up this potentially lifesaving test. For those who found it difficult to attend before the pandemic, such as people with a physical disability, lockdowns have only made the test harder and specialist clinics for survivors of sexual violence had to close.
Our NHS faces the huge challenge this winter of delivering Covid-19 vaccination programme, while maintaining vital services such as cancer.
Cervical screening remains the best protection against cervical cancer and it is essential that the UK government protects the cervical screening programme, throughout the pandemic and beyond. 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every day and unless we protect cervical screening, we will see this number rise.