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GPs under fire over smear test fall

Smear test attendance across the country has fallen dramatically over the past 10 years, with some specialists blaming shorter GP opening hours.

Figures released by the Department of Health show last year a weekly average of 1,300 fewer women aged 25 to 29 attended smear appointments than in 1995 – 10.3 per cent down. This means 68,000 women are stopping attending cervical cancer appointments every year.

Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said the service was in danger of becoming a victim of its own success: 'A key issue could be the effectiveness of

the screening programme – a reduction in rates of cervical cancer means it is now a far less common disease so people don't tend to worry so much.'

Others blamed GPs for the decline. Dr Amanda Herbert, a consultant pathologist at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said: 'It's probably more difficult to get evening and Saturday GP

appointments these days, so family planning clinics tend to get overloaded.'

One GP, who wanted to remain anonymous, strongly rejected the claims, saying: 'I have seen no drop due to GP surgery opening hours changing. All patients who have presented to gynaecology clinics with smears that are due, or overdue, have not attended because they don't like having smears taken.'

Dr Anne Szarewski, clinical consultant and HPV researcher for Cancer Research UK, said it was a 'big worry' as young women would be at raised risk of getting cervical cancer if they continued to avoid screening.

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