Nurses and other healthcare professionals are being called on to support the first national cervical screening campaign to increase the number of women attending across England.
Public Health England has today launched the Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign sparked by rates reaching a 20 year low, with one in four eligible women in the UK not attending their test.
“The ongoing decline in cervical screening attendance is a real concern”
PHE noted that around 2,600 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and around 690 women die from the disease – equivalent to two deaths every day.
It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, a significant 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented, said the government arms’-length body.
But PHE noted that there were a number of barriers to screening, including lack of knowledge about the purpose of the test and concern that it might be painful and embarrassing.
PHE has launched the new campaign to encourage all eligible women to accept their cervical smear invitation and remind women that it “can stop cancer before it starts”.
There is a particular focus on those aged 25 to 34, as the screening rate is lowest for this age group, with campaign activity including social media and other digital channels.
“Registered nurses and midwives play a pivotal role in making this a life-saving test”
Campaign resources are available for healthcare professionals to support conversations with their patients and encourage women to attend their cervical screening.
A spokeswoman highlighted that nurses were key in helping to reassure women about the procedure and its importance.
The eight-week campaign will provide a reminder to women about the test’s purpose, while providing practical information about what will happen during it.
Running from 5 March to 28 April, it will include advertising on TV, video on demand, posters, media partnerships, social media and other digital channels, together with national and regional PR activity.
For those who may be fearful of finding out that they have cancer, it will explain that screening looks for cell changes before they have a chance to turn into cancer.
The campaign also features positive real-life stories to help normalise the screening process and open up conversations.
“The importance of action, regular screening and effective follow up cannot be over emphasised”
PHE highlighted that healthcare professionals play an “integral role” in encouraging uptake by making the appointment easier to attend, giving reassurance and addressing specific emotional and practical barriers that deter women from attending.
It will support their efforts by providing a range of free resources, including posters, badge stickers, wallet cards and digital materials, together with a briefing document to help promote the campaign.
In addition, a new video featuring Dr Dawn Harper is available to share and explains how healthcare professionals can get involved in the campaign.
These materials are all available to order or download from the PHE Campaign Resource Centre and PHE will be sending all GP practices a pack of materials.
A PHE survey suggested once women have been screened the vast majority felt positive about the experience, with 87% glad they went and that 84% put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test.
- Over two thirds of young women wouldn’t tell nurse of smear worries
- Fall in cervical cancer screening numbers
- ‘Jade Goody effect’ increases cervical cancer screening uptake
While the campaign will target all eligible people, there will also be activity specifically directed towards women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and lesbian and bisexual women and trans men who are less likely to participate in the screening programme.
Meanwhile, PHE said the role of self-testing was currently being considered in a UK National Screening Committee consultation.
Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee at PHE, said: “The ongoing decline in cervical screening attendance is a real concern.
“I would encourage all healthcare professionals to back the campaign to enable more women to attend and normalise conversations about screening,” she said.
Viv Bennett, chief nurse at PHE, added: “Cervical screening is a routine test that registered nurses undertake on a regular basis. However, many women are very worried about the test and significant numbers avoid it.
“Registered nurses and midwives are in a unique position to support women by making sure they have the correct information about the purpose and importance of screening and explain that it is quick and simple,” she said.
“Registered nurses and midwives play a pivotal role in making this a life-saving test, from understanding uptake patterns, to health promotion opportunities, to performing a skilful compassionate screening test,” said Professor Bennett.
She added: “That’s why I’m urging nurses and midwives to support the Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign and to take all clinical opportunities and ‘teachable moments’ to remind women about this screening and help them overcome concerns or embarrassment.”
Women facing ‘barriers’ to gynaecological healthcare
Carmel Bagness, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, said: “This campaign is welcome and will undoubtedly help to save lives by encouraging women to go for vital screening.
“The importance of action, regular screening and effective follow up cannot be over emphasised – early diagnosis and treatment saves lives, plus reduces stress and anxiety for the woman and her family,” she said.
“Access to services, however, should be local and easily accessible to reduce barriers that may restrict take-up to the national screening programme,” she added.