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Cervical screening campaign led to ‘significant’ increase in attendance

The first-ever national cervical screening campaign has led to a 25% increase in the number of women aged 50-64 attending a smear test at their GP practice, an official evaluation has revealed.

The campaign, which ran in 2019, also led to a 19% increase in attendances by eligible women aged 25-49.

It comes as home self-sampling is being piloted in some areas of London in the hope it will boost take-up of cervical screening.

In an evaluation published this month, Public Health England (PHE) said there was a ‘statistically significant’ increase in the average number of GP attendances for cervical screening tests – up from 11.4 visits per practice per week the previous year to 13.7 during the campaign.

It added: ‘In women eligible for cervical screening, there was an increase of 18.7% in GP attendances per practice in women aged 25 to 49 years and a 25.2% increase in women aged 50 to 64 years.’

PHE said that while there was a ‘statistically significant’ decrease in the number of non-attendances for cervical screening during the campaign analysis period, a ‘similar decrease was also observed in the pre-campaign period’.

Meanwhile, a ‘statistically significant increase in the number of GP attendances for cervical screening tests by women who were not eligible was observed over the three periods’, it added.

However, the report also said that there was a ‘statistically significant’ decrease in the percentage of result letters received within 14 days during and after the campaign, likely due to increased numbers attending.

There was ‘no clear evidence’ that the campaign had an impact on the number of GP attendances for symptoms associated with cervical cancer or on the number of urgent referrals for suspected gynaecological cancers, it added.

PHE said: ‘Although there was a significant increase in urgent referrals for suspected gynaecological cancers, a similar increase was also observed for other suspected cancers.’

Figures for 2019/20 showed a decline in the numbers tested despite GP practices inviting more women for cervical screening.

The screening programme has struggled for some years, with the campaign launched after attendance levels reached a 20-year low.

Invitations to participate in screening were stopped in April 2020 due to the pandemic but began to be sent out once more in June.

Meanwhile, the number of QOF points attached to the two cervical screening indicators doubled from 2020/21.

A version of this article was originally published Nursing on Practice sister publication on Pulse.