Nurses play a ‘vital role’ in encouraging women to attend regular smear tests after a report revealed a 52% fall in women in England attending cervical screenings.
Smear tests, which can detect the presence of cancerous cells in the cervix, have been hit by the £600 million cuts to public health services between 2015 and 2020 – which is why the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has published new guidance.
‘Cervical screening saves lives, and we can all play a vital role in supporting women through the process,’ said Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women’s health at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
‘This guidance provides nursing staff with the tools they need to perform cervical screening and stresses the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer.’
‘All registered nurses and midwives who undertake cervical screenings must have access to training programmes and ongoing continuing professional development opportunities, to enhance service provision and aim to help reduce the barriers which may prevent women from accessing these vital services.’
With one in four women not attending their cervical screening appointments, this can lead to many undetected cancer cases – approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed each year and in 2016, 854 women died from the disease.
While 70% of 25 to 29-year-olds said they did not believe smears reduces the risk of cancer, a quarter of respondents were too embarrassed to attend their screenings – which the RCN say highlights the need for sensitive care.
‘Early detection is key to increasing survival rates so we are very concerned to hear that one in eight women find it difficult to make an appointment,’ said Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
‘We are working with the Royal College of General Practitioners and Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare to ensure women have access to cervical screening appointments and GP surgeries are adequately funded to meet this need.’
The report comes from charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, who are warning that ‘failings’ in delivering this care has resulted in ‘declining and unequal opportunities for women’ to access screening.
In response, the RCN is calling for their members and all nursing staff to increase awareness among women and men about the need for smears and the risks of HPV at every opportunity.