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Ongoing concern over drop in cervical smears

The number of women who had a cervical smear test in September fell by almost 14 per cent when compared to September 2019, according to the HSE.

In September 2019, around 18,300 people had a cervical smear test compared to around 16,000 this year, said a HSE spokesperson.

Over 118,000 HPV cervical screening invites have been issued since CervicalCheck recommenced on 6 July, HSE data showed. Despite this, just 31,000 cervical screening tests have taken place in primary care since the programme restarted. Around half of the tests processed have been for women who presented with invite letters. The rest have been for those whose GP believed would benefit from early testing.

“The number of people who received a cervical screening test through CervicalCheck between the start of January and the end of August this year was 57,925.Since July 2020, 65.5 per cent of people screened in primary care were under 45 years,” said a HSE spokesperson.

“The National Screening Service is making considerable effort to increase uptake of cervical screening amongst those who have received priority invitations. “Our restart plan involves offering screening to those people who have been waiting the longest for screening, proportionally, and new entrants to the programme. After this we are inviting those on routine recall screening.”

It understood that some GP surgeries are not currently undertaking screening tests. According to Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley, whose practice is undertaking smear tests, GPs have been advised by CervicalCheck they can only perform smear tests on patients with a CervicalCheck invitation.

He said that GPs have no visibility on which patients are issued with invitations and that the success of the programme in the past has been down to the personal relationship built up over several years between patients, nurses, and GPs.

According to the HSE, a targeted advertising campaign to encourage those who have received invites to attend for screening has been running since July. The campaign is also aimed at raising awareness of the new HPV cervical screening test.

The advertising campaign will continue and expand to include out of home advertising.

“In the new year, we will plan media activities for Q2, 2021 onwards,” according to the HSE.

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