New figures have revealed that cervical screening uptake rates are the lowest they have been for 19 years.
NHS Digital has revealed that only 72.7% of women attended their cervical screenings. Of the 4.2 million women aged 25 to 64 invited for cervical screening during 2015/16, 1.12 million did not attend.
Coverage is now 3% lower than it was in 2011 and has fallen by 0.8% in the last year.
Robert Music, the chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said that the new data makes ‘bleak reading’.
‘As we see screening coverage go down year on year, we are also seeing the numbers diagnosed with cervical cancer rise. If we do not start to immediately reverse declining coverage then tragically we will see more diagnoses and lives lost from what is a largely preventable disease,’ he said.
The charity is calling for initiatives to improve uptakes including self-testing, increasing provision of screening in sexual health clinics and allowing women to attend screening at any GP surgery other than the one they are registered with.
Among local authorities, the largest decline was in London where coverage is now only 66.7%, a decline of 1.7% from 2015. Across the country one in three 25 to 29 year olds did not attend last year.
Professor Sean Kehoe, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said research shows that inconvenience, a fear of cancer and concerns about the procedure put women off from making an appointment. ‘Ensuring that coverage does not decline any further remains an important public health issue,’ he added.
Cervical screening currently prevents around 75% of cervical cancers.