Calls for DIY smear tests amid Covid healthcare fear

Leanne Mckenzie

1 in 10 UK women would not attend cervical screening due to Covid fears, a new study has found.

Greater levels of fear were found among shielders, women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and those whose screening is overdue.

Smear test avoidance, however, is nothing new.

A pre-Covid survey by charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that 1 in 3 women had missed or delayed their cervical screening appointment citing embarrassment and distress caused as their main reasons.

Those aged 25 to 35 were especially worried saying they were put off by the idea of a stranger examining them.

UWS news took to facebook to ask younger women if they’d ever missed smear test appointments and if yes – why? .

The number of responses were surprisingly high with answers ranging from supportive:

to ridiculous

to just plain awful.

New research conducted during the pandemic has found that 32% of women would prefer to take an HPV self sample, rather than attend cervical screening with a clinician.

Self sampling would mean women no longer have to visit a healthcare professional for their initial cervical smear but would instead self test with an easy to use kit provided by their local GP surgery.

Rebecca Shoosmith, Acting Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust called self sampling a “game changer” and said:

“We have a roadmap to eliminate cervical cancer and self-sampling is a key part of this, one that will save lives.”

When asked if they would be happy to use a self test kit our facebook respondents answered overwhelmingly yes but had worries about the efficacy of ‘doing it themselves’.

The Scottish NHS is currently working with the UK National Screening Committee to see how best self-sampling can be implemented into the national screening programme,

A Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland spokesperson has said:

“The UK National Screening Committee continues to gather evidence on self-sampling as it considers potential future recommendations.”

“This could mean [we] will soon be able to offer self-sampling to all women. An amazing step forward.”  

Cervical screening in Scotland is currently offered to women (and anyone with a cervix) aged between 25 and 64 years. After breast cancer, it’s the most common women’s cancer in the world. It’s also the most common cancer in women under 35 in Scotland.

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