New national cervical screening campaign launches – as more than 1 in 4 in the East of England don’t take up screening offer

  • A new national campaign is calling on those eligible not to ignore their invite, as data reveals around 28% (more than 1 in 4) in the East of England don’t take up the offer of cervical screening.
  • A new survey released this week (14 February 2022) shows embarrassment was the most common reason for not booking a screening appointment with 64% in the East of England saying they were nervous when they did attend.
  • Celebrities including Linda Robson, Scarlett MoffattLouise MinchinVictoria Scone and Sharon Gaffka are starring in a new campaign film which addresses concerns around screening and encourages those eligible to attend.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), with the support of the NHS, has launched a major new national campaign to increase the number of those eligible attending their cervical screening in England. The new Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign urges women and those who may be eligible not to ignore their cervical screening invite, and if they missed their last one, to book an appointment with their GP practice or sexual health clinic now.

Latest figures from March 2021 show that around one in four eligible individuals in the East of England – women and people with a cervix aged between 25 and 64 – were not screened.

Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and approximately 690 women die from the disease – around two deaths every day. Previous estimates suggest screening prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths, but 83% of deaths could be prevented if everyone attended regularly.

As part of the campaign, a new survey of 3,000 women and people with a cervix commissioned by DHSC in England today reveals a number of concerns which prevent cervical screening. Embarrassment was the most common reason for never having attended or missing an appointment (stated by 42% of respondents), followed by those who “kept putting it off” (34%) and “being worried it would be painful” (28%). 15% of lesbian or bisexual women over 25 had never had a smear test, compared to 7% of women over 25 in general.

To tackle these barriers and help drive uptake, a new film has been released featuring Loose Women panellist Linda Robson, TV personality Scarlett Moffatt, broadcaster Louise Minchin, Drag Queen Victoria Scone and female rights activist Sharon Gaffka, alongside GP and media medic, Dr Zoe Williams. Through life saving conversations, they tackle the barriers to attending cervical screening and encourage those eligible to book their appointment when invited.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, said: “Around two women die every day from cervical cancer, but screening takes just a few minutes and can stop the disease before it starts. Through our new campaign we’re calling on all women and people with a cervix to get screened to help save hundreds of lives. Even if you’re feeling embarrassed or nervous, please don’t ignore your invitation.”

The full findings from the new survey in the east of England reveal:

  • When asked about what their experience was like at their most recent test, 64% or almost two thirds of people said they were nervous and 43% said they were embarrassed
  • The majority of women and people with a cervix (77%) said the nurse or doctor put them at ease during a cervical screening
  • Positively, over half of respondents (57%) were surprised about how quick the test was, and 86% would encourage others who are worried to go for a test
  • Around one in ten people don’t feel comfortable discussing a cervical screening with anyone, 48% would talk to their friend, or their partner (44%), and 39% would talk to their mother.
  • The majority (86%) said they were glad they attended a cervical screening.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England, said: “There is no doubt about it – cervical screening saves lives. By screening for risk signs at an early stage, it means that any abnormal cells can be treated quickly before they potentially develop into cancer.

“We know that it can feel embarrassing or feel like something that you can easily put off, but accepting your invite and getting checked could save your life. And please do speak to your GP practice about any concerns you might have – we are here to help you.”

In England, NHS cervical screening is offered to women and people with a cervix between the ages of 24.5 and 49 every three years. For those between the ages of 50 and 64, screening is offered every five years.

The campaign will emphasise that screening, which only takes a few minutes, can help stop cervical cancer before it starts, and is being supported by charities, including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Cervical screening checks for high-risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common virus that most people will get at some point. While for people with high-risk HPV the risk of getting cancer is low, any abnormal changes can be identified early.  Cell changes are easily treated, and this prevents cervical cancer. That is why attending screening appointments is so important.

Running throughout England from 14th February to 14th March, the campaign will include TV advertising, video on demand and social media, partnerships, together with national and regional PR activity.  It also includes activity targeted to ethnic minority (Black and South Asian) and LGBTQ+ communities, as data shows these groups can experience specific barriers to taking up screening.

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