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Jo's Blog

Let's talk about...how to access cervical screening if you have a physical disability

Posted on: Thursday, 8th August 2019 by Kate Sanger, Head of Communications & Public Affairs

We’ve released a new report today highlighting a barrier to cervical screening which is frankly disgraceful: physical disability. We were shocked by what we found.

Two thirds of women with a physical disability say they have been unable to attend cervical screening because of their disability. We heard from others who have been told they can’t have a test and worryingly numbers who have faced stigma and misconceptions along the way.

There is a huge disparity in the availability of the equipment and provisions across the country. While some women are presented with options and provided fantastic care, there is much work to be done to ensure equal access for all.

As Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs says: 

All patients should be able to access the healthcare they need, when they need it, and it’s important that GP practices and other providers are able to make reasonable adjustments, where possible, for those who have any sort of disability or limitation.  

However, there are inevitably some practices where, due to insufficient funding to upgrade or being housed in entirely inappropriate buildings access is not good enough, and GPs and our teams share this frustration, particularly when it comes to vital check-ups like cervical screening.

A shift in attitudes is just as vital as improving physical access to screening. We found that one in five women have been assumed not to be sexually active, therefore not needing cervical screening or being less at risk than able bodied women. This is not only dangerous but hurtful. 

We are raising the voice of this group of women whose needs are often forgotten and have provided recommendations for healthcare professionals that we believe will improve the situation in our report

What can you do if you’re struggling to access screening?

  • Contact your GP to ask if they have equipment or measures are available in order for you to access the test at your surgery. These might include:
    • Wheelchair access
    • A longer appointment
    • Hoists or height-adjustable beds
  • If the necessary provisions are not available in your local surgery ask if there are other places you can be referred to such as your local hospital or sexual health clinic
  • If you are unable to leave the house or the above is not available then ask if a home visit can be arranged 
  • If you are still unable to get a test then contact your local NHS, for example your Clinical Commissioning Group or Health Board
  • You can also contact the cervical screening programme directly who may be able to take action on your behalf. 

Other ways to further raise the issue include:

  • Contact your local MP with the details of what is happening, asking them to support your the issue or contact the local NHS to ask for action
  • Share our report on social media

If you want to talk or need some support:

  • Contact a relevant charity or organisation that might be able to give you advice specific to your disability 
  • Give our free helpline a call and the team can help you work out what to do next: 0808 802 8000

Don’t forget, we’re here for you and we won’t stop shouting until everyone who wants to get tested is able to do so.

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