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Improving access to cervical screening

Attending cervical screening is a patient choice, but some patients may not have that choice available for many reasons – from lack of understanding through to inappropriate equipment or adjustments. Understanding these patients and evaluating how you can offer them the correct support can help improve access to cervical screening. 

How is your surgery performing?

Start by reviewing how well your surgery is performing against national and local statistics: 

Review your current knowledge and practice

How well is your surgery currently doing at improving access to cervical screening? Here are some key things to think about before taking action.

Understanding local and patient demographic

In order to determine whether your current cervical screening practice is meeting the needs of your local and patient demographic, you need to understand the patients you are trying to make the test more accessible for.  

Think about the population in your local area:

  • What age ranges are there?
  • Which ethnicities are represented?
  • Which languages are spoken?
  • How many cultures are represented?
  • Are there any other demographics that you need to note (for example, working mothers)?

Now consider the following:

  • What are the current numbers of patients attending cervical screening?
  • What are current numbers of patients overdue for cervical screening?

You should be able to see if there are any patient groups who may not currently be able to access cervical screening easily. 

Staff training

All staff should be trained in the area of cervical screening relevant to their role:

  • Sample takers are up to date with the latest training.
  • Sample takers have read and are following good practice guidance .
  • Reception staff have had training on communicating about cervical screening with patients.

To encourage further learning and development, you could:

  • arrange educational sessions on cervical screening as part of GP Protected Learning Time (PLT)
  • suggest quick and engaging training sessions – such as discussions on difficult scenarios or cervical screening myths and facts
  • buddy up with another surgery to share learning and tips for improving access to cervical screening
  • send a monthly staff newsletter with links to the latest resources or research

Ways to improve access to cervical screening

Once you have an understanding of your target population and staff are trained, you can begin to think about how you can offer your patients the best access to and experience of cervical screening.

Get involved in awareness weeks

Conversation and awareness is at a high during campaign weeks such as Cervical Cancer Prevention Week in January and Cervical Screening Awareness Week in June. Take advantage of this by getting your surgery and target population involved in the conversation – you might host a themed information stand, display posters online and offline, or even take the opportunity to visit local community groups.

Develop targeted resources or interventions

Try to identify:

  • how your target population want to be communicated with – for example, phone or letter
  • where your target population want to be communicated with – for example, at home, a community group, or only in a healthcare setting
  • what your target population want or need to know – for example, are there particular myths  or concerns that you can address.

Once you know this, consider whether you can put together bespoke resources, communication or events that might speak to this population. For example, we have had surgeries who have secured funding to translate videos for a large Somali population.

See all of our translated videos >

Remember to consider the digital divide – not everyone will have access to, or want to access, information and support online. Physical copies or in-person interventions can be more costly, in both time and finance, but may have a bigger benefit for your target population.

Offer reasonable adjustments

Once you understand why your target population is not able to easily access cervical screening, think about how you can remedy that. 

  • Consider offering cervical screening appointments at different times – perhaps on weekday evenings or weekends – as a potentially simple fix to avoid clashes with work and other commitments. 
  • Host a drop-in clinic as a casual alternative to an appointment, allowing patients to come in and chat without needing to have the test straight away. 
  • Consider providing activities or toys for older children if appointments are outside of school hours, or suggest a mother brings a friend to look after the child during the appointment.
  • Link up with local learning disability nursing teams, sexual health providers and other experts, so you can jointly support patients with specific needs.
  • Check whether your surgery has easy access and equipment for someone with a physical disability
  • See if local employers will sign up to our Time to Test campaign, which commits to allowing employees time off work for cervical screening.

Read more about overcoming barriers to cervical screening >

Useful resources

You may find it useful to read or refer to the following resources:

August 2023 - Please be aware that this information for health professionals is currently undergoing regular review in line with our editorial policy. However the information remains valid.


Good practice guidance >

Read our good practice guidance for before, during and after cervical screening.

Use our resources

We have posters, leaflets and booklets available to download from our online Shop.

Download resources
Date last updated: 
12 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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