Hancock sent pics of flowers in shape of genitals in cancer test rowApril 15, 2019
Women send pictures of flowers that look like female genitals to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on social media in protest at slump in cervical cancer screening
- The #notashrinkingviolet campaign wants better access to cervical cancer tests
- Supported by Women’s Equality Party and two cancer charities on social media
- Daily Mail poll: Almost half of women delayed tests due to appointment shortage
- Experts said cervical cancer screening was becoming increasing ‘inaccessible’
- A quarter of women say they were unable to make a consultation and missed it
- Cervical screening attendance is at its worst level in two decades
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been bombarded on Twitter with images of flowers made to looks like female genitalia by campaigners demanding better access to cervical screening.
In what was branded a ‘public cervix announcement’ the artwork showing violets in the shape of vulvas were sent to the minister in charge of the NHS today using the hashtag #notashringkingviolet.
The campaign, backed by the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) and two cancer charities came after a Daily Mail poll revealed that almost half of women have delayed life-saving cervical cancer tests because they could not get an appointment at their GP surgery.
Experts said the procedure was becoming increasing ‘inaccessible’ due to a shortage of available slots at under-pressure surgeries.
More than a quarter of women say they have missed their smear test altogether because they were unable to make a consultation.
For a fifth, this had happened ‘multiple’ times, with some admitting they had waited five years before eventually being screened.
A WEP spokeswoman said: ‘Recent media coverage of the drop in cervical screening attendance has focused almost entirely on women’s embarrassment about their bodies.
‘It is true that relentless body-shaming of every part of women’s bodies affects the way we feel about ourselves, there are bigger causes of the 20-year low in screening attendance in England, Scotland and Wales, which are far less convenient for the governments.
The IT systems being used for screening programmes are out of date and not fit for purpose, resulting in letters being sent late and to the wrong women.
And when women do try to book an appointment with a GP surgery, they are often only available between 9am and 5pm or come with long waiting times.’
Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Meyer was among those who copied Matt Hancock in to tweets today in a bid to raise concerns about access to smear tests
Matt Hancock took over at Health Secretary from Jeremy Hunt last year and is seen as an outsider to replace Theresa May.
Cervical screening attendance is at its worst level in two decades and just 71 per cent of the eligible population are up-to-date on their tests.
Campaigners said women who had finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone were then put off by the long waits and lack of appointments.
Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in the under-35s and there are 3,200 new cases in the UK each year, and 1,000 deaths.
Sam Ransom put off having her smear test because she could not get an appointment at the evenings or weekends
Almost half of women have delayed life-saving cervical cancer tests because they could not get an appointment at their GP surgery (pictured human papillomavirus screening set)
But this mortality rate would be significantly higher were it not for the NHS’s screening programme, which detects abnormal cells before they develop into tumours.
Women are invited to have smear tests every three years from the ages of 25 to 49, and then every five years up to the age of 65.
But many GP surgeries are understaffed and struggling to meet the needs of their patients, particularly in areas where the population is rising.
Experts said the procedure was becoming increasing ‘inaccessible’ due to a shortage of available slots at under-pressure surgeries (pictured speculum used during examination)
Some can only offer smear test clinics on one day a week or only have one nurse to carry them out, who may be on holiday or off sick.
Many GP practices have long waiting lists and consultations are frequently cancelled at the last minute, when women have already booked time off work.
The survey of 2,037 women, conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on behalf of the Daily Mail, found that 43 per cent of women had been forced to delay their test at least once because they could not get an appointment.
Another 27 per cent said they had missed that year’s smear test completely because they were unable to make a slot. Among the women who had missed or delayed the procedure, 41 per cent reported waiting a year or more before finally having it done.
This included 9 per cent who said they had waited five years or more and 3 per cent who waited more than ten years.
Without screening, cervical cancer is extremely difficult to diagnose and there aren’t usually any symptoms in the early stages.
‘I found out I had a tumour after eight-month wait’: Woman, 34, reveals she was left infertile after putting off appointment
Sam was working long hours as a PA and unwilling to take time off – and explain the reason to her male bosses
Sam Ransom put off having her smear test because she could not get an appointment at the evenings or weekends.
She was working long hours as a PA and unwilling to take time off – and explain the reason to her male bosses.
The NHS sent her an invitation letter shortly after her 25th birthday in November 2009, but she waited eight months before going for an appointment.
When the results came back they showed she had a fast-growing tumour and was also four months pregnant.
Miss Ransom was advised to have an abortion as the pregnancy would drastically reduce her survival chances. Tragically, the radiotherapy and chemotherapy left her infertile.
Now 34, she is engaged and living in Lordswood, near Chatham, Kent. She said: ‘I put it off due to work commitments and doctors only being open at certain times during the day.’
Often by the time the signs do appear, tumours have spread to other organs. Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘Women who have taken a long time to pluck up the courage to pick up the phone are then told it’s four weeks, eight weeks or call back.
‘There’s a worry that they’ll get disenchanted, lose confidence and they may not book again. That’s our biggest concern.
‘We’ve got this amazing programme which saves 5,000 lives every year but it’s becoming more and more inaccessible.’
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton said: ‘There are very serious concerns that women are finding it very difficult to get an appointment for a smear test and that ministers aren’t properly addressing this.
More than a quarter of women say they have missed their smear test altogether because they were unable to make a consultation
‘Smear tests save lives and ministers cannot ignore this vital question of access.’
Dr Asha Kasliwal, president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said the problem was being worsened by cuts to local sexual health clinics, which used to offer the tests.
Many clinics have either closed or no longer offer the tests, meaning women have to go to their GPs. The survey, which involved women aged 25 to 65, found that only 6.5 per cent of respondents could say if their surgery offered screening appointments outside the hours of 9am to 5pm. This is a huge problem as many are reluctant to book time off work or explain precisely why they need to be absent.
Last month, the NHS launched its first cervical cancer campaign to try to halt the declining uptake.
The awareness drive, run by Public Health England, involved TV and social media adverts which urged women not to be embarrassed about the procedure.
But campaigners say the lack of available appointments is a bigger problem than shame or fear.
An NHS spokesman said: ‘There are now more GP appointments available than ever before, cancer survival rates are at their highest ever and all girls can also get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine free from the NHS which helps protect them against cervical cancer.
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