This site is intended for health professionals only


Cervical screening standards updated for Scotland



NHS Scotland’s education and training body has published updated cervical screening education standards after HPV testing replaced cytology last year.

NHS Education for Scotland (NES), which published the standards this month, said they will ‘ensure a consistent level of education’ for sample takers, and be quality assured by three annual checks of supporting evidence and feedback from education providers.

The standards also consider more flexible approaches to both training and screening delivery that were introduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – such as simulated practice for cervical screening education, the body added.

The update comes after Scotland launched high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (Hr-HPV) testing as the primary test in cervical screening in March 2020. The sample now only undergoes cytology (looking for cell changes under a microscope) if Hr-HPV is detected.        

Although there are no changes to how sample takes practically perform the test, lab processing is different as is the follow-up, which differs according to the test result.

Vicki Waqa, national coordinator for general practice nursing at NES, explained that ‘HPV testing is more sensitive and effective at identifying people who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.’

For HPV testing, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and tested for HPV. If no high-risk HPV is found in HPV testing, the person has a very low risk of developing cervical cancer within 5 years, as it takes around 10 to 15 years to develop after an HPV infection.

Women who don’t have HPV are invited for their next routine cervical screening appointment in five years’ time instead of every three for cytology. This is because the HPV test is more effective at identifying those at risk of developing cervical cancer.  

HPV primary screening has been used in Wales and England since 2018 and 2019 respectively. It will be used in Northern Ireland but the start date is to be confirmed.

NES reviewed the previous standards, from 2013, at the request of the Scottish Government. This involved a consultation group representing sample takers, education providers, policy leads, and the third sector.

Rebecca Shoosmith, deputy chief executive at cervical screening charity Jo’s Trust, said: ‘It’s great to see crucial commitments being made to learning, development and improvement across all aspects of the cervical screening programme.’

In February, NHS England said home self-sampling HPV tests were being piloted in some areas of London in the hope it will boost take up of cervical screening.

To complete relevant women’s health CPD modules on Nursing in Practice Learning, click here.