The proportion of women who have never had cervical screening, or are not up to date with their tests, is the highest in 10 years, NHS England has warned.
Approximately 4.6 million women in England between the ages of 25 and 64 – around a third of this group – have never been screened for cervical cancer or are not up to date with their tests.
Cervical cancer is highly preventable through human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and regular preventative screening.
However, around 3,200 women each year are diagnosed with the condition: a quarter of whom die.
The data comes as HPV vaccination rates among teenagers is also falling. In the 2021/22 academic year the total vaccination rate was down by 7% in year-8 girls at school and down by 8.7% among year-8 boys.
In response, the NHS has issued a call for anyone who is eligible for screening to come forward for a test. Last year more than five million invites to screening appointments were sent, up 10% from pre-pandemic levels. However, this has not arrested the fall in uptake.
GP and NHS interim medical director for primary care, Dr Kiren Collison, said: ‘We have made great progress on our Cervical Screening Programme and the combined effects of the HPV vaccine and the new, more sensitive way of screening for cervical cancer means that we have the opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer altogether.
‘Having the potential to completely eradicate a disease that affects thousands of people every year is remarkable, but in order to do this, it is vital that people take up the offer of a test.’
Speaking to Pulse’s sister title Nursing in Practice, Jo’s Cervical Cancer trust policy head Kate Sanger suggested that the decline in screening rates was linked to increased pressure on general practice.
She said: ‘The NHS is under increasing pressure; its hard for women to get an appointment.’
She added that GP practices ‘need to be looking at how to remove those barriers to access’ as there are ‘lots of reasons that screening can be difficult for women’.
‘They may be scared or embarrassed. And for the physically disabled, they weren’t able to attend a screening pre-Covid, and it’s not better now.’
GP practice nurses should try to ‘understand why women might find it difficult and understand where their non-attenders are in that area,’ Ms Sanger added.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Nursing in Practice