Cancer warning as 6,000 miss vital tests
Over 6,000 woman in Hartlepool missed their smear test during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new figures.
NHS England data showed that a quarter of the 23,982 women eligible for cervical screening in the area during 2020-21 did not attend an appointment.
The figures show that, in the area, 73% of those eligible were screened – down from 74% the year before.
That means an estimated 6,413 women in the area missed out on the potentially life-saving programme during the pandemic, when invites to screenings were temporarily suspended and appointments delayed.
Intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix, routine 'smear tests' are offered to women between the ages of 25 and 64 in an effort to prevent cervical cancer.
Around 70% of eligible women in England were tested during the pandemic, but coverage dropped by two per cent compared to 2019-20.
The charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said a national drop in cervical screening combined with "unprecedented strain" on the health service could lead to more women being diagnosed with preventable cancers.
It says many women were also put off attending their screenings due to concerns about their risk of catching coronavirus during the appointment.
Samantha Dixon, the charity's chief executive, said the national drop in screenings was not unexpected in light of the pandemic but said it remained a worry.
She said: "Our health service is under unprecedented strain at the moment and facing a long winter. We cannot afford to let coverage slip further.
"It will only lead to even more cancers that could have been prevented by being picked up early.”
She added: "In some areas coverage is lower than one in two and that should be ringing alarm bells."
Cervical screenings look for changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer.
Women aged 49 and under are invited for tests every three years while those older receive invites every five years.
Uptake in Hartlepool during 2020-21 was higher for younger women, with 74% of those aged 25 to 49 receiving a smear test, compared to 72% of women between 50 and 64.