Coronavirus pandemic with devastating impact on access to cervical cancer screening

Yesterday’s latest NHS figures showed that the proportion of eligible women who were aware of screening in 2019-2020 rose slightly, to 72.2 percent. But Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust warned that the picture will now have changed as a result of the crisis.

Research by the charity has shown that people are at a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are less likely to attend screening during the pandemic.

Chief executive Robert Music said, “In a ‘normal’ year, an increase in attendance could be a ray of hope.

“This year, however, has to come with a dose of reality as these numbers reflect the state of affairs before the pandemic.

“It’s hard to say what the picture is now, but we are facing new challenges from Covid-19, including service disruptions and public uncertainty about its presence at the moment.”

About 4.63 million women aged 25-64 were invited for screening in the 12 months to March 2020, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year.

However, the number actually tested fell by 6.8 percent to 3.2 million.

Overall, 72.2 percent of eligible women were up to date, up from 71.9 percent previously.

Coverage had increased across all regions, but varied widely, ranging from 49.8 percent in Kensington and Chelsea (London) to 80.2 percent in Rutland (East Midlands).

Mr. Music said, “What these new data shows is that there is a clear need for systemic change in the cervical screening program to see a greater impact on admission.

“For a long time, there have been major inequalities in access to screening. We are concerned that the pandemic means not only that they have not been addressed, but have instead increased. “

Mr. Music added: “For those who found it difficult to attend before the pandemic, such as people with physical disabilities, lockdowns have only made the test more difficult and specialized clinics for sexual violence survivors had to be closed.

“Our NHS faces the daunting challenge this winter of delivering the Covid-19 vaccination program while preserving essential services such as cancer.

“Cervical research remains the best protection against cervical cancer and it is essential that the UK government protects the cervical research program during the pandemic and beyond.

“Nine women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day and unless we protect cervical exams, we will see this number rise.”

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