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62% say that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off to look after their health
New research has found that only a quarter of women said they were able to get a convenient cervical screening appointment last time they tried to book. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, cautions that inability to get appointments around work is causing many to delay potentially lifesaving screening.
Homeworking during the pandemic has made attending medical appointments harder for some (8%), however 23% say it has made it easier. As many businesses look to return to the office, the charity cautions that this progress could be undone. In its survey of 1,020 women and people with a cervix it sadly found many workers report using annual leave, sick leave or even unpaid leave to attend appointments with 10% saying they had used annual leave more than once to attend cervical screening.
During Gynaecological Cancer Awareness month the charity wants to highlight the roles employers can play in supporting staff to attend potentially life saving screening.
There are many factors that can affect someone’s ability and desire to attend, including previous bad experiences or trauma however COVID has added more challenges with NHS pressures in particular reducing availability of appointments. Before the pandemic, 1 in 4 women and people with a cervix did not attend cervical screening when invited.
Getting a test around personal committments including work can be a significant factor, especially for those who work shifts or who travel to work. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are concerned that COVID has exacerbated this as 1 in 3 say they feel less able to take time off to attend medical appointments because of the pandemic. Reasons cited for work being a challenge include inflexible bosses, too much work, shift patterns and it being difficult to ask to attend.
In 2018, the charity found 1 in 10 were only offered appointments they could not make. Now, 38% say that they were unable to get a convenient appointment last time they tried to book.
The charity is launching their ‘Time to Test’ campaign, encouraging employers to play their part in raising the profile of cervical screening and cervical cancer in the workplace and empower their team to look after their cervical health. The campaign asks employers to ensure their staff can attend cervical screening in a way that is convenient for them if they can’t get appointments outside working time .
The Time to Test campaign also encourages raising awareness of cervical screening at work, after 62% said that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off for appointments.
Samantha Dixon, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust:
“There are many barriers to cervical screening but work is a very practical one which we can and should try to tackle. Whilst every workplace is different, we’re calling on employers to find a way to offer their staff Time to Test, especially as we start returning to offices, we must try to avoid putting more barriers in place. It’s worrying to see so many having to take annual or sick leave to attend a routine medical appointment, which will lead to some delaying. Employers can help stop this and make cervical screening and cervical health visible and important in the workplace, so more women and people with a cervix to feel confident and informed to attend.”
An NHS worker, who asked to anonymous:
“I work for the NHS and had cervical cancer 4 years ago. I’ve had to have regular check ups since and have to use my annual leave for these appointments. One of my check ups came back with HPV again so I had to have extra appointments which meant extra annual leave. The ironic thing is I even work in the hospital I have my check ups in. It’s such an important test and we should make it easier to attend so that everyone has the same chance to reduce their risk of getting cancer. It makes me angry that workplaces make it so difficult for women to attend appointments be it for smear tests or checkups.”
Hayley Prince, Manchester, was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 32 in 2009:
“I work in the NHS and was a single mum at the time, being so busy I found it a struggle to get an appointment at a time to suit without having to take a day’s holiday. A Saturday morning would have been brilliant but they didn’t offer them. I was a few months over my call up due to trying to get an appointment I could get to.
My treatment involved chemotherapy and internal and external radiotherapy and thankfully I got the all clear, but I dread to think what could have happened if I put off going. I feel that, being such an important screening, we should be allowed the time to attend a smear test in the same way as employers have to allow you to attend an antenatal appointment. Educating managers in the importance of a smear test and how it can potentially save your life is key.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“We fully support the Time to Test initiative, to encourage everyone who works for the RCOG to attend their cervical screening appointments. It is vital that women attend these screenings as the best protection against cervical cancer, and we want all employees to feel supported in taking time to prioritise their own health and wellbeing where needed.”
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Notes to editor
About cervical screening