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Cervical screening: services in ‘meltdown’

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Just nine labs remain open PHE is trying to increase uptake, but experts fear delays in test results coming through

The closure of 41 laboratories coinciding with the launch of a new awareness campaign has left cervical screening services in meltdown, a leading expert has said.

Alison Cropper, the chair of the British Association for Cytopathology and a consultant biomedical scientist, said Public Health England’s campaign had been launched at ‘the worst time there could possibly have been. ‘The service is in meltdown, she said.

Prof Anne Mackie, the director of screening at Public Health England, said: ‘Screening can stop cancer before it starts and estimates show that if everyone attended regularly, 83% of deaths could be prevented. Since the programme began an estimated 5,000 lives a year have been saved, but cervical screening numbers are at a 20-year low. That is why we launched this campaign.

The total number of laboratories available has fallen from 50 to just 9. Experts fear that this will cause ‘unacceptable delays’ to cervical screening results.

‘HPV primary testing is a fantastic advancement in our cervical screening programme yet the roll out of this new testing method comes at a time when cervical screening attendance is at its lowest,’ said Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. ‘Campaigns to reverse this are needed more than ever however for those working in laboratories, this means additional workload during a period of upheaval and uncertainty.

‘Our laboratory staff are critical to delivering a safe and effective programme and it is essential that they have the resource and support they need to do this otherwise we will just see increased dissatisfaction amongst the workforce and increased waiting times for women which is simply not fair. We cannot afford for public trust and confidence to be lost in our programme as this could result in an even greater decline in attendance.”

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