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NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is looking at alternative ways to encourage women to attend cervical screening appointments, following new research from University College London.

The research suggests that over a quarter of women who do not take up the offer of cervical screening are unaware that the process exists. It also said that TV, radio and social media, or community outreach might be more effective to reach these women, who tend to be younger, from poorer families or non-native English speakers, than the current method that is used to invited women to attend.

Cervical screening, formerly known as the smear test, takes about three minutes, when a sample of cells is taken from the cervix and sent for testing to check for anything out of the ordinary. Results are then sent to the patient.   Regular screening helps to identify any abnormal changes at an early stage so that they can be treated, if necessary, to stop cancer developing. Since the cervical screening programme was implemented in the 1980s, cases of cervical cancer have decreased by around 7% per year nationally.

Riverside Health Centre in Manningtree has been working hard to increase their cervical screening uptake. Practice manager, Mel Lodge, said, “We tend to opportunistically talk to patients where an alert is seen that cervical cytology is outstanding, and our nurses call more anxious patients to encourage them to attend or explore their anxieties about the procedure, if appropriate. We also have posters in our waiting rooms and clinical rooms. Currently, 87% of our eligible women have been adequately assessed by cervical screening, which is 14% above the national average, but we cannot become complacent as national levels drop – we will continue to encourage women to attend their screening.”

NHS England is also trying to increase awareness with their new social media campaign, ‘Females of the Future’. The campaign is aimed at 25-29 year olds and aims to fill women with hope, not guilt, as they are encouraged to attend their smear test. Hayley McCarthy, NHS England, Midlands and East (East), Screening and Immunisation Coordinator is leading this work. She said: “The young women of Essex are the females of the future. We want to empower and motivate them to access cervical screening.”

Throughout 2017, the CCG has reached thousands of people by promoting social media campaigns that raise cervical screening awareness from charity Jo’s Trust, including #SmearForSmear and Cervical Screening Awareness Week on Facebook and Twitter.