Record number of women attended cervical screenings last month

Number attending screenings climbed to almost 30,000 in March

The boost in appointments comes just one month after CervicalCheck’s clinical director warned women were putting their lives and health at risk due to a lack of trust in the screening service. Photograph: iStock

The boost in appointments comes just one month after CervicalCheck’s clinical director warned women were putting their lives and health at risk due to a lack of trust in the screening service. Photograph: iStock

 

Almost 30,000 women attended cervical smear appointments last month, the highest monthly attendance since October 2018, according to the clinical director of CervicalCheck, Dr Nóirín Russell.

In February this year, CervicalCheck issued 88,000 invitations and reminder letters, and the service received 21,000 test samples. This is less than the 23,000 slides the service expects to process in a normal month. In March, the number of women attending screenings climbed to 29,854.

The boost in appointments comes just one month after Dr Russell warned women were putting their lives and health at risk due to a lack of trust in the screening service.

Dr Russell said on Tuesday the service was “delighted with the uptake” of appointments in March, with the record numbers signalling the “importance of cervical screening to women in Ireland”.

This year’s uptick has come at a time when GPs are already busier than normal, due to Covid-19 referrals and administering vaccinations. Dr Russell thanked doctors and nurses for continuing to ensure the CervicalCheck programme was a “priority in primary care”.

Backlog

The rush for appointments can be attributed in part to a backlog of cases due to a pause to most of screening services from March 30th to July 6th last year. These curbs due to the pandemic meant the number of women who got a cervical cancer smear last year was down 67,000 on 2019, when 210,000 people attended an appointment.

The service has also recently run a large-scale communications campaign across digital and national media to encourage women to book their test. By the end of 2020 invite letters had been issued to the 270,000 people who had been due screenings in 2020.

Dr Russell urged women to book their screening upon receiving an invitation letter, or to check the register if they know they are due a test.

“We know that when women ring to book a test they may not get a slot right away, but we are asking them to take the appointment offered, even if it is a few weeks away,” she said, adding that safety measures have been introduced to protect both patients and staff.

Medical student Laura Dowling
Medical student Laura Dowling

Case study: ‘It was something I was very aware of turning 25’

Dublin resident Laura Dowling was one of the 29,854 women to avail of the service during its busiest month. The 25-year-old medical student said she has only recently become eligible for the free smear, but it had been at the back of her mind for a while, as many of her friends had booked their appointments.

“It was something I was very aware of turning 25, that I did need to book a test . . . I think most women in their 20s and 30s would know someone or know of someone who has had abnormal cells picked up,” she said.

She feels it is important that women can talk openly about health issues, and she even made a point of informing her father she had booked a smear test.

“Before I would have been hush hush but I have come to the realisation it is just a medical appointment,” she added.

Meanwhile, some of the high-profile women who have campaigned over their delayed cervical cancer diagnoses spurred her to “get the test done”. That the test now checks for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which identifies if someone is at risk of developing cancer, gave Ms Dowling added confidence that any abnormality she might have would be picked up. She has not yet received her result.

“There are going to be flaws in every testing system . . . We are lucky that we get to have the test done for free,” she said.