New figures released to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week show that the number of smear tests carried out in Greater Manchester during the coronavirus pandemic has fallen by more than 80% since lockdown began on 23 March.

As uptake begins to slowly recover, health professionals are speaking out to highlight the importance of cervical screening and provide reassurance that it is still safe to have a smear test.

During the week beginning 9 March, a total of 3,865 smear tests were undertaken across Greater Manchester. By mid-April, this had fallen to just 263 per week – less than 7% of what would normally be expected. However, the situation is now improving with 746 tests carried out during the week beginning 1 June. Most cervical screening tests are carried out by GP practices. At the height of coronavirus, many took the decision to reschedule cervical screening appointments to a later date, to respond to the pandemic and protect patients and staff from the virus. This is now changing as many practices begin to offer smear test appointments as usual.

Christine Khiroya, Greater Manchester Nurse Consultant with Lead Responsibility for Screening and Immunisation, said:

“It is really encouraging that we are now seeing an increase in the number of smear tests being carried out across Greater Manchester. Cervical screening remains a really important test and the best protection against cervical cancer. I do understand it can be worrying for people during the outbreak, but if you have been invited to have your smear test it is safe to attend.”

“In the current climate, we’re more aware than ever of the importance of protecting ourselves from disease and staying healthy and well. Cervical screening helps to prevent cancer and saves an estimated 5,000 lives every year in the UK. That’s why it’s so important for all those who are eligible to have their smear test. If you received your invitation letter a while ago, or you’re not sure when your next test is due, call your GP practice and if needed book your appointment. If you’re shielding, or have any concerns, please do discuss this with your GP.”

Those attending their GP practice for cervical screening will notice some changes to help to reduce the risk of infection. This will include social distancing measures and healthcare staff will be wearing protective clothing including face masks. Practices may conduct a risk assessment over the phone, so any questions can be asked in advance to reduce contact time during the appointment.

Cervical screening is an important test that detects abnormal cells that could develop into cervical cancer if they are left untreated. The NHS offers cervical screening to all women aged 25 to 49 every 3 years and to all women aged 50 to 64 every 5 years. This is because most cervical cancers develop in women aged 25 to 64. Those who have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine still need to have a smear test as it does not protect against all types of this virus, which can cause cancer. Attending cervical screening is important for anyone with a cervix – even if they do not identify as a woman.

Cancer can develop between regular screening tests. Anyone who experiences any of the symptoms below should contact their GP practice without delay.

  • Bleeding between periods, after sex, or after the menopause
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain or discomfort during sex

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