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Why can't I get a smear test?

Posted on: Tuesday, 5th January 2021 by Rebecca Shoosmith, Head of Support Services

Most recently updated on 5th January 2021 to reflect the changing situation in the UK. We will update this blog post with any new information we have.

If you’ve been invited for cervical screening (a smear test) but can’t get an appointment, you’re probably wondering what’s going on.

We’re all aware of the huge impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on our health care system. In many parts of the UK, during the lockdown which began in March 2020, cervical screening invitations were paused and appointments postponed while the NHS focused on responding to the pandemic. While cervical screening should now be happening across the country, we know that in some areas this is not the case and as health services are extremely busy just now it may take longer to get an appointment.

Do remember that if you have been invited, it is because your GP practice has taken measures to keep you safe while in the surgery. If you have an appointment, government guidance says that you are allowed to go, even within the current restrictions across the UK, as cervical screening is a medical appointment.

If you have been affected by delays and cancellations you might be feeling confused or worried. This blog will hopefully help you understand what the reasons could be.

Don’t forget our support services are here for you if you have any further questions or want to chat about how you’re feeling.

What’s the delay?

Your GP practice’s top priority is to keep you and their staff as safe as possible. This can mean that some are not able to offer cervical screening at the moment or might have to cancel appointments at last minute. They might offer you a test at a different location or may have less appointments than usual available. We know this can be worrying if you are waiting for a test, however it might help to understand some of the reasons why this can be including staff sickness, backlogs, newly implemented safety and cleaning procedures, or your GP practice ensuring it has the resources and staff to offer screening.

Each practice has a different population and serves completely different areas. Some might be areas where there are higher spikes of coronavirus for example, or where there are big backlogs of appointments to get through as a result of how that practice had to respond to the pandemic.

One of the ways practices are working hard to keep you safe from coronavirus is extra cleaning. Although examination couches have always been cleaned between patients, staff are now cleaning all surfaces in every part of the practice you may come into contact with. This takes time and so can affect the amount of appointments they can offer. While this can be difficult if you are waiting for an appointment, when you are able to attend screening it means it is safe to do so. 

In some areas, health professionals were redeployed to work in different areas in order to help with the coronavirus response. Getting back to normal may take some time, especially if nurses are ill, self-isolating, are shielding or perhaps your GP practice has only one nurse who is able to carry out screening. 

What to do if you can’t get a smear test

First, ask your GP practice when they think they will be able to offer you an appointment. This might help put your mind at ease. If they’re unable to offer you an appointment and are unsure when they’ll be able to book you in, then consider calling them back more frequently or ask to speak to the practice manager who might be able to advise when you will able to get tested. 

When a practice is unable to offer screening, it is likely they will have made arrangements with other practices within the area for you to attend there instead. You might want to ask your GP practice if there is anywhere you can attend, which might include a sexual health clinic. 

Should you be worried about a smear test being delayed? 

While it is not ideal if you can’t get a test, and you may be feeling worried, cervical cancer takes many years, not months, to develop and remains rare. This means it’s unlikely that it would develop in the time that your appointment is delayed. 

If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer, you should contact your GP. Learn more about the symptoms. 

Is it safe to attend an appointment?

Yes. Your practice has measure in place to keep you safe at your GP. However, we understand that you may have other concerns about getting to your appointment. Cervical screening is always a choice, and you may want to consider your own personal risk. You can call our Helpline if you want help with making a decision which is right for you. 

If you want to know what to expect when attending your cervical screening, we’ve put together this blog which includes some of the measures that healthcare professionals are putting in place to keep you, and them safe. 

While we won’t be able to help you sort out an appointment, our Helpline is here to listen to any concerns and hopefully offer some reassurance. Or our forum are a great place to ask questions, get reliable information or speak to others who can help you put your mind at ease.

Categories: cervical screening