Joanne Bosanquet outlines why practice nurses are vital to help Public Health England’s new cervical screening campaign
This month, Public Health England has launched our first ever cervical screening campaign, ‘Cervical Screening Saves Lives’. The campaign aims to increase the number of eligible people (women and trans men who have a cervix aged 25 to 64) to attend screening when invited.
Coverage of cervical screening in England is at a 20-year low (71.4%) and continues to decline year on year. There are many reasons why women do not attend screening and nurses play a vital role in helping overcome some of these barriers and supporting women to take up their invitation. These barriers include:
- Lack of knowledge about cervical cancer and the purpose of cervical screening.
- Embarrassment about the test.
- Fear of pain, which may be a particular issue for women who are attending their first screening test, postmenopausal women, and trans men if they have been taking long-term testosterone.
- Fear that the test will result in a diagnosis of cancer.
Nurses are well-placed to open up conversations about screening that have the power to reassure women and to break down any embarrassment they might feel. We can do this by talking through why screening is so important, explaining the procedure and suggesting ways it can be made easier for women who have had a previous negative experience or who are worried about discomfort, for example by using a different sized speculum or trying a different position.
We should support all women to attend screening but there are a number of groups who are less likely to attend screening, including women aged 25-34, BAME women, lesbian and bisexual women, and trans men. The campaign will target these groups with tailored messages but it’s important that we remind people that everyone with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 can be screened.
New research from PHE shows that once women have been screened the majority (87%) are glad that they went and healthcare professionals play a huge part in making the experience more comfortable, with eight in 10 stating they were put at ease by the nurse/doctor. Women often share their experience with others, which is why it’s vital that we work together to ensure we continue to provide support to women who are screened.
We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve this vision if women take up their screening invitations. I am therefore encouraging all nurses across the country to spread the word about the ‘Cervical Cancer Saves Lives’ campaign and use their unique position in the community to talk to women about screening. Free resources to promote screening and conversation-starters are available on PHE’s Campaign Resource Centre.
Joanne Bosanquet is deputy director of nursing at Public Health England