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Cervical screening failure

Posted on: Monday, 19th November 2018 by Kate Sanger, Head of Communications & Public Affairs

Kate Sanger, Head of Communications and Public Affairs at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, wrote this blog for The Eve Appeal about the recent cervical screening failure news.

You may have seen the news last week about an error within the cervical screening programme resulting in information letters not being sent out.

It was reported that, unfortunately, earlier this year reminder letters were not sent to 43,220 women. What is more concerning though is that 4,508 results letters were not sent out.

Thankfully we know that the majority of women who didn’t receive their results had a normal result yet 182 women had a result needing a follow-up test (colposcopy) and 252 women required an early repeat test.

A worrying time?

If you are concerned that you might have been affected by this error then understandably this could be an anxious time.

All of the women affected are being contacted by letter with details about whether a test is due or if a follow up is due. However if you have any concerns or want to find out if you have been one of the women included in this error, then contact your GP in the first instance.

Don’t forget that we’re here, if you want to chat about any aspect of screening or results.

It is important to remember that cervical screenings are important and lifesaving. Around one in 20 women have abnormal changes to the cells in their cervix. Whereas an abnormal result is far, far more common than cancer, cervical screenings are an effective test that prevents 75% of cervical cancers from ever developing. It is also important to remember that cervical cancer takes a long time to develop and we have been told that the risk to health by the failure is minimal. If you are concerned about your results, do also remember that the majority of cervical screening results come back as normal.

We have a fantastic and highly effective cervical screening programme in the UK which saves thousands of lives every year. Sadly though attendance is falling. At a time when we must be focused on reversing this decline we cannot afford for confidence in the programme to be lost. This will only result in fewer women taking up their invitation for what could be a potentially life-saving test.

Will this failure happen again?

Capita, the company who produce and send invites, reminders and results letters on behalf of NHS England and who were responsible for the incident, have apologised and implemented a number of changes which they say should prevent this happening again. It has also been announced that an external review is being undertaken, looking into the cervical screening programme. While this is good news, we have been talking about the worrying IT system supporting the cervical screening programme in England for a very long time. You can find out more in Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s latest report Computer Says No where we explain our concerns in more detail.

We have raised this issue continually with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock and other influential figures, and hope to see change before the situation gets worse.

Categories: cervical screening