Cancer charity's concerns as tens of thousands of Northamptonshire women miss smear tests during Covid-19 pandemic

Figures show 60,000 did not attend apppointments amid concerns of catching coronavirus

By Joanna Morris, Data Reporter
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 1:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th December 2021, 1:22 pm

Tens of thousands of Northamptonshire women missed their smear test during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, figures reveal.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said a national drop in cervical screening combined with 'unprecedented strain' on the health service could lead to more women being diagnosed with preventable cancers.

The charity's warning came as NHS England data showed more than a quarter of the 211,320 women eligible for cervical screening across the whole of Northamptonshire during 2020-21 did not attend an appointment.

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Tens of thousands of women in the county missed their smear test during the pandemic.

Routine tests are offered to women between the ages of 25 and 64 in an effort to detect abnormalities within the cervix and prevent cancer.

Around 70 percent of eligible women in England were tested during the pandemic, but coverage dropped by two percent compared to 2019-20.

In Northamptonshire, 71 percent of those eligible were screened – compared to 73 percent the year before.

It means an estimated 61,420 women in the area missed out on the potentially life-saving programme during the pandemic, when invites to screenings were temporarily suspended and appointments delayed.

Many women were also put off attending their screenings due to concerns about their risk of catching coronavirus during appointments, according to research from Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust.

Samantha Dixon, the charity's chief executive, said the national drop in screenings was not unexpected in light of the pandemic but said it remained a worry.

She said: "Our health service is under unprecedented strain at the moment and facing a long winter.

"We cannot afford to let coverage slip further.

"It will only lead to even more cancers that could have been prevented.

"In some areas coverage is lower than one in two and that should be ringing alarm bells."

Cervical screenings look for changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer. A soft brush is used to collect a small sample of cells which is then tested for any abnormalities.

Women aged 49 and under are invited for tests every three years while those who are older get called every five years.

Uptake in Northamptonshire during 2020-21 was higher for older women, with 74 percent of those aged 50 to 64 receiving a smear test, compared to 69 percent of women between 25 and 49.