Derby City Council has been praised for its work to increase uptake of cervical screening appointments.

In a recent report from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the Council was noted for its work with NHS England and Cancer Research UK colleagues. Together, they have worked to increase the number of women attending cervical screening appointments (previously known as a smear test) by visiting women’s groups across the city, as well as offering targeted support to GP surgeries with low attendance rates.

All women who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening, but despite the benefits of cervical screening, at least one in four women who were invited to an appointment in England last year failed to attend.

The number of women attending appointments in England is now at a 20-year low, and continues to decline.

Since November 2016, the Public Health team has been speaking face-to-face with women about why cervical screening is so important, and working with underperforming GP surgeries to improve attendance numbers.

The team found that successful ways for GPs to help women to attend appointments are:

  • sending invitations to appointments on coloured paper so that it makes an impact when opened
  • using a personalised approach to invitations
  • offering flexibility with appointment schedules
  • holding health promotion events
  • offering to arrange an interpreter or chaperone if appropriate.

As well as encouraging women to attend appointments, the team has looked at why women avoid attending their screening appointments. During talks and workshops, some of the concerns shared included that women:

  • felt embarrassed
  • worried about pain during the screening
  • didn’t know what cervical screening was or why it is important to attend
  • had lack of support from partners to attend their appointment.

These factors are not just a concern for women in Derby. Across England, one in three women do not attend cervical screening because they feel embarrassed.

Jo Johnston had a letter sent to her from her local practice, asking her to come in for her cervical screening. She explains her experience:

“Like a lot of people, I was a bit nervous when I had my letter through to say it was time for my smear test. I was definitely worried about it being sore, and the thought of it is a bit embarrassing. In actual fact, I didn’t really have anything to worry about. When I booked my screening, I didn’t need to tell the receptionist what it was for, I just said I had received a letter asking me to book an appointment with the practice nurse.

“When I got there, the nurse sat me down and explained exactly what was going to happen, what the screening is looking for, and why it was really good that I had come in. Having the actual test wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it definitely wasn’t painful.

“When I got the results back, there were some abnormal cells showing, which I eventually had to have removed, but I think people forget that the procedures that someone would have to go through if cervical cancer did have the chance to develop are so much more invasive than just having a screening, which literally takes less than five minutes.”

Most women’s test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

Most of these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own.

For more information about cervical screening please visit the NHS website and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.