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To further our work in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on cervical screening, we conducted an online survey of 2,000 women aged 25-64 living in England and spoke to an additional 22 through one to one interviews and focus groups. Carried out during June and July 2020, we asked those taking part in the research how they felt about attending cervical screening in light of the pandemic.
It was positive that 48% said the pandemic had not affected how they would feel about attending cervical screening with 12% feeling more likely to attend. Concern was expressed at screening being paused or delayed in some areas due to the pandemic, with many eager to attend.
While the majority of participants felt less anxious about the virus than at the start of the pandemic, one in 10 (9%) said they definitely wouldn’t attend cervical screening now and 22% felt less likely to attend. Higher levels of fear or concern was found among those who have been shielding or living with someone shielding, women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and those overdue screening.
It has been widely reported that people from ethnic minority backgrounds have potentially higher risk of COVID-19, so it is not surprising this is leading to anxiety or concern about attending cervical screening. We found among women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds:
Cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer, so we must focus on providing the information and support people need to feel confident and safe to attend.
The overarching finding was that among most women, catching COVID-19 is not the main concern, yet it is a source of additional worry. When asked about screening in general 59% said they don’t like it but see it as a necessary test. 29% say it makes them anxious, 27% find it embarrassing and 21% find it painful. Negative sentiments were all more prevalent among women overdue screening.
Worries about the safety of visiting a GP surgery were high, with 29% saying they don’t feel it is safe to visit a GP surgery at the moment and 36% feeling anxious about their safety (or safety of someone they live with). Concern about inadvertently passing Covid-19 to loved ones, particularly for those in more at-risk groups, was generally greater than getting virus themselves. Encountering ‘unwell’ people in waiting rooms and having to get public transport were two of the biggest worries. Associated potential barriers that were mentioned include uncertainty about screening being available, expectation of backlogs and fewer appointments, not being able to make appointments online and having a male practitioner due to staff shortages.
The need for information about what will happen at cervical screening now and the safety measures would be in place is very high (51%) and his rises significantly among BAME women (69%).
43% of all respondents say more information or reassurance about safety measures would make them more likely to have a test if they were due, and 36% would be more likely if they knew the nurse would definitely be wearing a mask.
Categories: cervical screening; coronavirus