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Making your mind up about screening when things are difficult

Posted on: Sunday, 14th June 2020 by Hannah Dwyer, Support Services Officer

Our Helpliner, Hannah, shares some of the common conversations she’s having with people right now and some of the guidance she shares with callers. This is part of our “How it works now” series, aiming to help you navigate how our healthcare system works at the moment.

The majority of the calls we are getting on the Helpline at the moment are about cervical screening. I’m hearing lots of new questions and concerns, and some women are finding it hard to decide what’s right for them at the moment. We’re living in a really difficult time so below I’m addressing some of the most common queries that we are hearing, which we hope will help your decision-making process.

Dealing with variation across the UK  

This is something lots of people are struggling with, as whether you can book a test will depend on where you live. It can be challenging when you have friends or family who have different experiences or opportunities, if they live close by it can seem even more confusing or unfair. 

There are so many factors affecting these differences. This includes guidance from the Government. Think of the size of your GP surgery too or the number of nurses. Each practice will be putting measures in place to keep you, other patients and everyone working at the practice safe. It might take longer for some practices to do this. Don’t forget, if you are invited for a test it is because the practice thinks it is safe to do so. 

Guidance is changing all the time as we learn more about coronavirus, so do keep an eye on what is happening as it might affect your decision.

Explore how you feel

It’s worth thinking about how you felt about cervical screening before coronavirus. Try and compare how you feel now to how you felt before. If you have had a test cancelled or postponed, how did that make you feel at the time? Is there something in particular you’re nervous about? It can help to name or identify what you are feeling, so that you can deal with that feeling. 

Coronavirus is making lots of things hard, from jobs to mental health to worries about others. It can be really hard to untangle your thoughts, but if possible, sometimes you might find it’s not actually the screening that you’re worried about. 

Remember though that screening is a choice, so take your time and get all the information you need to decide what’s right for you. 


One of the biggest concerns I hear is “Is it safe?” If this is a question on your mind, or if you’re trying to make sense of all things cervical screening at the moment, hopefully some of the below helps. 

Delays and changes to screening over the past few months have happened for a reason. The main one is to keep you safe. You won’t be able to book a test until your GP practice has decided it is safe to do so as they won’t want to put you, other patients or staff at risk. 

Remember that guidance is changing all the time. Think about changes to lockdown guidance over the past few weeks. This the same as in healthcare. Doctors are constantly looking at the evidence and making changes but always working as hard as they can to protect the health of everyone who visits the practice. 

Worries about results

Waiting for results is always difficult especially if you have been waiting what can feel like a really long time. We have lots of health information which might help to answer your questions on our website.

Sometimes I encourage callers to speak to their GP as they might be able to let you know if there is a delay. Do be mindful of the fact that they might not always have all the answers too and this could be hard for them as well. This is a very fast-moving situation and for reception staff, it can be difficult not to be able to give the answers they know patients want. They are also humans, dealing with their own challenges and concerns.

At a time when we are already dealing with one health concern, which can feel all-consuming, it can be hard to think about potential cervical screening results. Sometimes I speak with callers who have had HPV for a long time and they are worried that this might affect their risk of coronavirus, or people who simply don’t want to think about coronavirus on top of their existing worries. 

Again, we have lots of information which can help to put your mind at rest and please don’t feel like you have to worry alone. My job is to talk you through how you feel, your options and help you feel in control of the situation.

Whatever you decide to do, try to come to a decision which is appropriate for you – what’s right for your friends and family might not suit you at this moment in time even if it has in the past. Cervical screening isn’t always an easy test, nor is it an easy choice, but know that whatever you decide there is support out there. 

Find more information about cervical screening in our FAQs >

Do you have more questions or concerns? You can call our free Helpline to talk through what's on your mind, or connect with others who are going through something similar on our online Forum >