GP practices should offer ‘on-the-spot’ smear tests during routine appointments to reduce the number of women contracting cervical cancer and save the NHS money in treatment costs, a think-tank has said.
Demos argues in a report that if all women aged 25-65 were regularly screened – perhaps at GP practices by a female nurse or GP – then the incidence of cervical cancer would halve and so would costs to the NHS.
But GP leaders have said that this would be impossible without additional resources.
The Demos report argued that low screening rates currently are a result of difficulty in finding convenient appointment times, embarrassment, an underestimation of the risks, and poor awareness of what screening is for.
The think-tank’s public and welfare researcher Jo Salter said: ‘Things like on-the-spot smearing tests during GP appointments might overcome the reluctance of many women feel about screening. This measure, combined with weekend or evening drop-in sessions at GP surgeries and health clinics, would help women struggling to find time for an appointment. Other countries have piloted alternative screening methods, such as self-testing and urine testing, which may also prove more appealing to women in the UK.’
But RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said it was ‘difficult to see how GPs could offer on the spot tests without additional resources’, and that many GPs simply do not have room in their premises to deliver such services. GPs are already ‘heaving under the pressure of existing workloads and struggling to cope with soaring numbers of patients’, she explained.
Dr Baker added: ‘The crisis in general practice is so severe that at least 27 million patients will have to wait more than a week to see a GP this year, and 84% of GPs are worried their workloads are so high that they might miss something serious in a patient.’