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Cervical screening uptake drops despite more women being invited

The number of women undertaking cervical screening last year dropped for the fourth consecutive year, despite a slight increase in the number of eligible women invited.

The latest figures, published by NHS Digital today, found that in 2017/18 the percentage of eligible women (aged 25 to 64) that were screened adequately was 71.4%, a drop of 0.6 percentage points compared to the year before.

The decline came even though a total of 4.46m women aged 25 to 64 were recorded as invited for screening, representing a 0.3 percentage point increase on 2016/17, when 4.45m women were invited.

However, the report said that it is currently unknown whether the recent scandal concerning cervical screening invitations could have impacted the results.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Capita – the private company contracted to provide GP back-office services – failed to send nearly 48,000 letters related to cervical screening, most of which were invitations or reminders and did not inform NHS England of the issue until two months after the problem was discovered.

NHS Digital’s report said: ‘An investigation is underway which should clarify the impact on the invitation statistics and a short update will be provided once this has been clarified.’

The report further found:

  • Coverage for women aged 25-64 was the worst in London at around 65%, falling well below the nationally acceptable standard of 80% coverage.
  • There was a 4 percentage point reduction in colposcopy referrals in 2017/18 compared to 2016/17.
  • In 2018, only around 60% of letters containing the results of cervical screening tests were sent out within two weeks of the sample being taken.

The findings come after PHE expressed concern last year over the ongoing decline in cervical screening uptake and called the trend a ‘real concern’.


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