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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.
Cervical screening is one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer, but it is not a mandatory test. You can provide the information and support your patients need to make an informed decision about cervical screening.
Yes. It is up to the patient to decide whether they want to attend cervical screening.
It’s important that any decision a patient makes is informed. This means that they have all of the information they need to make a decision. The information should be unbiased and factual – not swayed towards either the positive or negative.
- Marteau, T. et al. A measure of informed choice. Health Expectations.
Patients may need information in a particular format or language in order to fully understand cervical screening and make an informed decision. You can assist them by offering:
If you are taking the sample, you should explain to a patient exactly what will happen during the appointment. You should be able to answer questions and respond to concerns. Even if a patient has had cervical screening for many years, it is important not to make assumptions about what they know or how they feel.
Some women and people with a cervix feel very anxious about screening, so it’s important for all patients to know that they are in control. They can choose to stop the test at any point before or during the appointment.
Explaining this clearly to them can help them feel empowered and less anxious. It is good practice to continually check in and get their consent by explaining what you will do at each stage, before you do it. For example, you could say, ‘I’m going to insert the speculum now. Is that OK?’, and wait for them to confirm before you do it.
If the patient withdraws their consent before or during the appointment, let them know they can ask to come back at any time. We have heard of some patients being refused other health services if they do not want cervical screening – this should never be the case.
If a patient is unsure of having cervical screening at an initial appointment, you can ask them what you could do to support them in future and make sure you signpost them onto support.
It is important that patients have access to information and support from other reliable sources. You could signpost them to:
Patients may feel more able to ask difficult questions of or disclose personal experiences to independent organisations, rather than their healthcare professionals, so you can also signpost them to the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Helpline on 0808 802 8000.
Patients can choose to withdraw from the Cervical Screening Programme (CSP). It is important patients understand:
The patient should put their decision to withdraw in writing. It is the GP surgery’s responsibility to notify the CSP.