Of the 4.2 million women invited to be screened for cervical cancer, 27.3% are not attending, new NHS figures have revealed.
Over one in four women may be at risk of the potentially deadly cancer as a result.
The latest figures show that cervical screening coverage in England is at just 72.7% – the lowest rate in 19 years. Of the 4.2 million women aged 25 to 64 invited for cervical screening during 2015/16, 1.12 million did not attend.
Coverage has fallen by 0.8% in the last year and is now 3% lower than 2011.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “We are calling for urgent action to explore initiatives including self-testing, increasing provision of screening in sexual health clinics and allowing women to attend screening at GP surgeries other than the one they are registered with.”
Around three women in the UK die every day from cervical cancer, with someone diagnosed every three hours. With screening the disease is largely preventable.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for cervical screening every three years and from 50 to 64 every five years. The screening prevents against 75% of cervical cancers.
Uptake is lowest among BME patients and deprived communities. The Cancer Strategy for England has said it acknowledges the need to see these gaps closed through targeted awareness campaigns and more accessible screenings.
Among local authorities, the largest decline was in London where coverage is now only 66.7%, a decline of 1.7% from 2015, of women attend.
Screening uptake has fallen among all age groups. Only one in three 25 to 29-year-olds are not attending. However, in 2015 the age group with the largest fall was 40 to 44-year-olds where coverage fell 1.4%.
The figures also show that 9.9% of women eligible for screening have never attended.
Mr Music of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “The new data makes bleak reading. As we see screening coverage go down year on year, we are also seeing the numbers diagnosed with cervical cancer rise.
“It is essential that government, commissioners and public health leads invest in ensuring that every woman understands the role of screening in preventing cervical cancer and the potential health implications of not attending.”