Cervical screening meltdown after attendance campaign

Women left waiting months for results as surge in women attending smear tests coincides with lab restructuring process.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
Cervical screening meltdown after attendance campaign - NewsMavens
Lab test, Pixabay

Why this story matters:

When the government public health body launches a public awareness campaign to attract more women to have smear tests, and when the number of women attending screenings is at a 20-year-low, you listen.

But Public Health England's cervical screening campaign came at the "worst possible time", leaving the service in "meltdown", according to one biomedical scientist.

Restructuring of the entire screening service will see nearly 50 hospital screening labs reduced to nine this summer.

One of the cervical screening system's outsourced contractors, Capita, which administered cervical screenings on behalf of NHS England, has also lost its contract after what the British Medical Association's Dr Krishna Kasaraneni called "shambolic" running of GP services.

But the poor functioning of one of the most important health services for women – cervical cancer rates are set to rise, with women in the most deprived areas most at-risk – marks yet another case of women's health being on the priority backseat.

Details from the story:

  • Official figures, released last year, showed cervical screening attendance rates were at a 20-year-low, with three million women missing the routine test.
  • But a public awareness campaign to get more women attending tests led to a surge in numbers of women, leaving England's cervical screening service in chaos.
  • The campaign, and other publicity about cervical screenings including a live smear test on the BBC, coincided with a restructuring process. The number of laboratories dealing with cervical smears are being reduced to just nine out of 50, which will result in longer wait times for results.
  • Women could be waiting for months for results, despite the NHS guide saying results will be sent within 14 days.
  • The "poorly thought-out" timing of the campaign could lead to women being less likely to attend screenings in the future, said biomedical scientist and chair of the British Association for Cytopathology, Alison Cropper.
  • The cervical smear "meltdown" was also followed by the end of a contract with cervical screening service contractor Capita, which NHS chiefs have expressed dissatisfaction with.
  • Capita claimed full responsibility for the more than 40,000 women who missed out on cervical screening invitations and reminder letters, while 4,508 women didn't receive their results in the post.

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