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Let’s talk about it…difficulty accessing a cervical screening appointment

Posted on: Monday, 11th June 2018 by Kate Sanger, Head of Communications and Public Affairs

There are many reasons which can make attending smear tests difficult. Things such as fear, embarrassment, anxiety and a previous bad experience can all mean even taking the first step to book an appointment can be hard. However another barrier to smear tests is physically being able to access the test and more and more women are telling us that they are struggling to get appointments.

In a new report, Computer says “no", we’ve found that depending on where women live across the UK and their personal situation, the opportunities that they have are varied.

So let’s talk about it.

Some women find it hard to get appointments at their GP. We’ve found that a significant number of women were told no appointments were available when they last tried to book and almost one in 10 were only offered times they couldn’t make.

“I had great difficulty booking my last smear as there were no appointments for over six weeks so I had to wait for new appointments to be released. By the time I got through on the phone, the appointments would be booked up for another week as the nurse only does tests one afternoon per week. I eventually had my test 5 months late”

Work can be a big barrier and one in five women say they struggle to get an appointment around work, one in ten say they would be encouraged to attend if they didn’t have to take holiday from work.

“My shift pattern and commute can make it difficult to be available during opening hours.”

Access through sexual health services is patchy across the county and in lots of places it is declining.

“I could go around work and school runs as well as helping with nervousness and embarrassment…my last test was due in November but I was told by the centre that they can no longer do smears due to funding being stopped. It has taken almost six months to get a GP appointment.”

Some groups of women are even more disadvantage when it comes to attending smear tests, including women who are disabled and house or bed bound. For survivors of sexual violence, the test itself and having to explain or relive the experience can make presenting at a GP impossible and services for survivors are few and far between. Women who travel or don’t have a fixed address will also face difficulties with receiving invitations and accessing their smear test.

So what can be done?

Every woman should be able to attend their smear test if they chose to have one. Find out what we are calling for to make this happen:

Some tips for you:

  1. If you are struggling to get an appointment at your GP practice, ask if there is anywhere else you can attend. In some areas you may be able to visit another GP practice
  2. If your GP practice tells you they do not offer smear tests, then ask them where you can attend your test as they should have alternative arrangements in place
  3. If you are unable to get an appointment or find it hard attending your GP, contact your local sexual health service to see if they offer smear tests
  4. If you are a survivor of sexual violence, you might find this blog helpful

If you have questions or concerns then you can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000. Our trained volunteers can offer guidance and support.