GP practices invited an increased number of women for cervical screening last year but there was a decline in the numbers tested, figures for 2019/20 show.
A report from NHS Digital shows that in total, 4.63 million women aged 25-64 were invited for screening during 2019/20 – a 5% increase on the previous year.
But the figures also show that 3.2 million women aged 25-64 were tested in 2019/20, a drop of 6.8% from the numbers done in 2018/19.
The figures should not be impacted much by Covid-19 as they only go up to the end of March and it is not clear why there was a drop in the numbers tested, NHS Digital said.
Part of the reason could be an increase in the number of women tested in 2018/19, the report said with rates more comparable to the two years prior.
It is also the first year to include figures from the full implementation of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) primary screening.
The impact of Covid-19 on cervical screening figures is expected to be seen in full in next year’s figures because of disruption to services and data submission, NHS Digital said.
Invitations to participate in screening were stopped from 9 April but began to be sent out once more in June.
While there was no national instruction from NHS England to stop screening altogether in some regions local NHS advice was to halt the service due to the risk of transmission during the first national lockdown.
Latest 2019/20 coverage figures show that 72.2% of eligible women aged 25-64 had last been screened within the required year, a slight increase from the previous year.
But there was stark regional differences in how quickly women received results.
No region met the target of 98% of letters returned within 14 days: The East of England was highest at at 63.7% but in the East Midlands the figure was just 9.8%.
In a bid to tackle falling uptake of screening Public Health England is considering home self-sampling to replace cervical smear tests in a GP setting for patients who do not wish to attend.