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Behind the headlines: Colposcopy delays in Greater Glasgow and Clyde

Posted on: Wednesday, 22nd February 2023 by Eluned Hughes, Head of Information and Engagement

The Glasgow Times today published an article entitled "Glasgow campaigners slam year long wait for follow-up smear exam.” The article highlights the issue of long waiting times for colposcopy appointments in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

This is something we have been hearing about more and more through our Helpline. It might be worrying to hear about delays and, even more so, being told you might have a long wait. Read on to find out what’s going on and what it means for you.

When are you seen in colposcopy 

Women and people with a cervix are referred to colposcopy if cervical cell changes and HPV have been detected at their cervical screening. Cell changes are graded according to how big the changes are compared to normal cells. At a colposcopy appointment the cervix is examined more closely, and sometimes a biopsy is taken, to see whether further monitoring or treatment is needed to help prevent cervical cancer.  

NHS Scotland standards recommend that women with abnormal screening tests are seen no later than 2 weeks (for urgent referrals), no later than 4 weeks (for high grade referrals) and no later than 8 weeks (for low grade referrals, that do not require urgent assessment).

What is happening in Greater Glasgow and Clyde? 

In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, we are unfortunately seeing delays of up to 52 weeks for some women with low grade referrals. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have explained that these waiting times are the result of backlogs within laboratory and screening services, workforce issues, and the accumulated effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work is ongoing to address these delays, with locums being taken on to cope with the backlog, however there are many patients faced with long waits.  

Is this happening elsewhere? 

At the moment there is a significant issue in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. Across most of the UK you will be able to get appointments and be seen as normal. If you are worried or unsure about delays in your area, your GP surgery or hospital should be able to let you know about issues 

What is the risk of this delay? 

A statement from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that urgent cases continue to be prioritised, with urgent assessments completed within 4-5 weeks”. It may be helpful to remember that cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer, taking between 5 and 20 years to develop, and many low grade cell changes will clear without the need for treatment. However, the mental and emotional impact of a wait can be significant.  

What do Jo’s think? 

We do not think it is acceptable that patients should wait such a long time for a colposcopy appointment. We are worried about the impact that these long waits are having on women’s emotional health and wellbeing. While patients who need to be seen more quickly are being prioritised, there is a risk that some patients could be misdiagnosed, or something has been missed. NHSGGC must closely monitor the situation and take every available action to reduce these long waits. We cannot afford for women to lose faith and trust in the service, but these delays could be putting the health of some women at risk. 

What can I do if I’m affected? 

Not all cell changes will worsen or turn into cervical cancer, and not all cell changes will need to be treated.  

If you notice any changes to your physical health, or any possible symptoms of cervical cancer, then it is important that you speak to your GP as soon as possible. 

If you are anxious or have any questions, we are here to support you. We have information on our website, a Helpline, and an Ask the Expert service.  


Categories: cell changes colposcopy