Delivering evidence-based simple interventions in primary care can have a significant impact on improving cervical screening uptake as well as overcoming some of the barriers and inequalities experienced by different groups. A whole practice approach is key to improving cervical screening coverages. Encouraging all staff to be pro-active in encouraging screening.
Knowing your demographic is incredibly important; this could shape the way you communicate with your non-attenders, how you focus your resources and help identify opportunities for staff training. For example, communication training could be considered for practice staff to support telephone conversations with patients who do not attend screening.
In England, practice cancer screening data can be accessed via the PHE Fingertips site here.
In early 2022, Wales announced changes to their cervical screening programme moving from screening every 3 years to every 5 years. This followed Scotland who had already moved to 5-year intervals in March 2020. This change has been recommended by the UK National Screening Committee.
The test used in cervical screening has changed in recent years with screening now testing for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is more accurate than the previous test meaning that the intervals between screenings can be safely extended for people who are not at high risk.
England: In England, the HPV test was introduced in 2019 but there haven’t been any announcements regarding extending screening intervals.
Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland have yet to move to HPV primary testing.
The first home cervical screening tests are being trialled in England. The trial, which started in January 2021, was rolled out through 166 GP practices as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. Research has shown that 99% of women are able to carry out a self-swab effectively.
Around 31,000 women have been offered kits to carry out tests in their own homes, with embarrassment being a key underlying reason for non-attendance it is hoped that home kits will increase take-up.
The YouScreen trial is being run by NHS England, Public Health England, NHS Digital and King’s College London until December 2021, with results still pending.
Link: Written statement: change to cervical screening interval, GOV.WALES (2022)
Link: Cervical screening in Wales extended to every 5 years: why the switch?, Cancer Research UK (2022)
Link: NHS gives women HPV home testing kits to cut cancer deaths, NHS (2021)