Nurses are being advised that changes to Scotland’s cervical screening programme will come into force on 6 June this year, bringing the country’s policy in line with practice elsewhere in the UK.
Under the changes, the screening age will increase from 20 to 25 years – so women aged 20-24 will no longer be screened, unless they have already been invited under the age of 25 before the 6 June.
“Changes have been decided based on a review of evidence about the effectiveness”
Meanwhile, women will be screened until 64 years, as opposed to the current 60 years. The frequency will continue to be every three years from ages 25 to 49, but will change to be every five years for women from age 50 to 64.
Some women on follow-up will be invited over the age of 65. This will be where a woman’s last test was non-routine. Women who have had changes identified during screening will be invited up to the age of 70 years, as opposed to the current 68 years.
Carol Colquhoun, national co-ordinator for Scotland’s screening programmes at the NHS National Services Division, said the changes were based on a review of evidence about the effectiveness and benefits of screening across age ranges.
Data showed screening women below the age of 25 had “little or no impact” on rates of invasive cervical cancer, she said.
While for women over 50, five-yearly screening offered “adequate protection” and women up to the age of 64 could benefit, she said.
Ms Colquhoun stated: “Women will continue to be invited for screening by receiving a letter and leaflet automatically sent from the Scottish Cervical Call Recall System (SCCRS).
“There will be cases when a woman aged between 20-24 years is invited on or after 6 June 2016, because she has previously been invited as part of the programme before the changes were implemented,” she said.
She added: “Health professionals should refer to the SCCRS before a smear test is taken to ensure the woman is eligible. Tests taken from women not eligible for screening will not be processed by the laboratory.”
NHS Health Scotland also noted that research showed many women still did not understand the benefits of cervical screening or the risk of cervical cancer.
“General practice nurses have an extremely valuable role to play”
It highlighted that it was important women were informed about the benefits of screening and reassured, and given further information by health professionals who were “best placed to answer women’s questions”.
Mary Horne, a practice nurse from NHS Lothian, said: “General practice nurses have an extremely valuable role to play in ensuring that women are encouraged to attend and put at ease for this important screening process.
“We know that many women are worried about pain and discomfort, while some feel embarrassed about the intimacy of the procedure, and even about making the appointment itself,” she said.
“That’s why it’s important to take time at the start to explain to the woman exactly what it going to happen and answer any questions they may have reassuring them that there is no pain involved,” she added.
All public facing information materials have been updated to reflect the changes as well as emphasising the benefits of cervical screening.
A question and answer sheet has also been produced.