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This page is aimed at primary care staff, including sample takers and reception staff. It may also be useful for other healthcare professionals.
Although cervical screening is often described as a quick and simple test, at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust we know that many women and people with a cervix don’t find it easy. In fact, some can find it painful, invasive or traumatising.
The role of the sample taker and other primary care staff that patients will meet cannot be overstated. You can create an environment that is welcoming, supportive and where the patient feels in control.
On this page:
If the patient calls to book an appointment, you should:
If they book an appointment online, it is good practice to email them with any essential information and to check whether they have questions.
Some patients will be uncomfortable with the idea that they are coming in for cervical screening. When they check in, don’t push them to disclose which appointment they are there for.
Remember that some patients may also disclose, verbally or non-verbally via a written note, something that makes cervical screening difficult for them. If this happens, pass it on confidentially to the sample taker in order to ensure the right person has this conversation with the patient.
COVID-19 safety measures may mean your usual routine for patients arriving at the surgery looks different. While this may make creating a welcoming environment more challenging, you can still make sure the patient feels at ease once they are invited into the examination room.
Before the patient arrives, make sure:
Once you have greeted the patient:
It can be tempting to launch into the test straight away, but remember that cervical screening isn’t a regular thing for patients. Here are our tips for putting patients at ease:
The patient needs to make an informed decision to have cervical screening. As part of that, you need to make sure they understand the test. You can ask questions and use their answers to adapt how you support them.
The patient must make an informed decision to have cervical screening. Once you have answered all of their questions and are confident they understand the test, get verbal consent that they are happy to have it.
Give the patient privacy to change and cover themselves with a paper or plastic sheet, or something they have brought from home.
It is good practice to explain every step of the test and get consent before you do it. Here are our other tips:
Research has demonstrated that water-based lubricant has a minimal effect on the sample or results, while providing relief from pain or discomfort for the patient. Ask whether the patient wants you to use a small amount of lubricant on the sides of the speculum for their comfort.
You must put the lubricant on the sides of the speculum, avoiding the tip. This is so it doesn’t touch the cervix and affect the cells.
It is important to listen to the patient and be ready to assess and respond to any pain or discomfort. In some cases, a topical oestrogen cream may be more appropriate to help with vaginal dryness, which means the patient will need to rebook cervical screening after a few weeks, so it has time to take effect. Topical oestrogen should not be used for roughly 2 to 3 days before cervical screening to avoid the sample being affected.
After the test, give the patient privacy to change again. Once the patient is ready:
Everyone reacts to cervical screening differently. Be prepared for some patients to need more time or space to process what has just happened.
Patients will receive results via letter to their home address, so need to understand the possible results beforehand. You should use this time to explain the different results and what they mean.
At the moment, patients may be particularly worried if they get an HPV result. You should explain the switch to HPV primary screening and tell them more about HPV.
Tell patients when they can expect to receive their results. If there are delays in your area, let them know.
Download cervical screening pathways for:
- Feedback given to our Public Health Engagement Coordinators
Make sure the sample pot is labelled correctly, to avoid patients having to come back for a repeat test. You may need to be more specific in your labelling for some patients, including trans men and/or non-binary people.
Research suggests that patients who are less educated are more likely to miss follow up appointments, such as colposcopy. You play an important part in educating patients about HPV and abnormal results, which may lead to increased attendance at follow up.
We recommend following up with patients who have any kind of abnormal result – HPV, cell changes or both. After you receive the results at your surgery, it is best to wait 3 working days to contact the patient.
You could ask:
We know that patients may initially react with worry at being called about results. However, your purpose is to reassure them, help them understand the results, and be a presence that can offer support.