Thousands of Wigan women have missed life-saving smear tests during pandemic

Tens of thousands of Wigan women missed potentially life-saving smear tests during the first year of the pandemic, worrying figures show.

By Joanna Morris
Friday, 21st January 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 12:36 pm

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 a quarter of the 83,910 women eligible for cervical screening in Wigan during 2020-21 did not attend an appointment.

Intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix, routine smear tests are offered to women between the ages of 25 and 64 in an effort to prevent cervical cancer.

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

In Wigan, 74 per cent of those eligible were screened – down from 77 per cent the year before.

It means an estimated 21,557 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 the appointment, 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.

During the screenings, 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 older receive invites every five years.

Despite older women being more likely to attend screenings nationally, in Wigan, the proportion of women screened was about the same for those aged 25 to 49 as it was for those between 50 and 64.

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