One in four women fail to attend cervical screening

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Concerns have been raised after more than one in four women across Scotland failed to attend cervical screening appointments.

Tests are now offered to all women aged 25-64 and new figures show uptake stood at 73.4% in the year to March 2017.

Data from the NHS Scotland Information Services Division shows uptake falls as deprivation increases, from 78.3% in the most affluent areas to 67.4% in the most deprived areas.

Women aged 50-54 were most likely to attend screening appointments, at 80.8%, while those aged 25-29 are least likely at 63.1%, meaning around one in three failed to attend.

Previously, screening was on a downward trend in Scotland at just under 70% compared to 80% a decade ago, but statisticians said this year’s figures are not comparable due to changes in the testing programme.

The age range for routine screening changed from 20-60 to 25-64 in June last year.

NHS Scotland said the tests save around 5,000 lives a year in the UK and prevent eight out of ten cervical cancers from developing.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is worrying that so many women are still not attending cervical screening when invited. There are many barriers to women attending screening, including psychological, cultural, social and physical.

“From talking to women who come to us for support and information we know that many find screening difficult to access, especially for those who work.

“When it comes to cervical screening and improving attendance, one size really does not fit all and we must prioritise understanding and tackling the barriers faced by different groups of women.”

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Cervical screening is an important health service that can reduce cases of cervical cancer and death. We must continue to invest in more accurate and accessible tests.

“The incidence of cervical cancer has decreased by 40% between 1988 and 2013, far exceeding the 20% target set when the programme was introduced. Despite the success of the programme it is disappointing that uptake is below the Healthcare Improvement Scotland target of 80%.”

She said the second phase of a hard-hitting campaign aimed at encouraging younger women to attend smear tests would begin next month and that women will also be checked for the cancer-causing human papillomavirus at the tests, giving the potential for earlier and more effective treatment.

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