Leeds charity helps sex workers and vulnerable women access cervical cancer screenings

Basis Yorkshire, a Leeds-based charity, runs a cervical screening drop-in clinic once a fortnight at their city-centre office.

The Basis Yorkshire team won a GSK Impact Award in 2017.
The Basis Yorkshire team won a GSK Impact Award in 2017.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35, with nine women diagnosed with the cancer every day.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Earlier this month, the YEP revealed cervical screening in England is at a 20 year low according to figures published by NHS Digital in March 2018.

Leeds has seen a drop of one percentage point for women aged 25 to 49 to 71.4 per cent and a fall of 0.8 percentage points to 77.5 per cent for women aged 50 to 64 between 2017 and 2018.

With their drop-in health clinic, Basis (which provides safety, information and support to both sex workers living and/or working in Leeds and young people experiencing or at risk of sexual exploitation) offers some of the more hard to reach women in the city a different way of accessing this vital health service.

Emily Turner, a sexual health outreach worker at the clinic, explained that the clinic started after the charity conducted a health needs assessment with the women they work with.

She said: "Quite a lot of women had not has a smear test before or were overdue for them.

"There are many reasons for that, maybe they don't have a GP, they're vulnerable or have complex needs."

In the case of migrant sex workers, language barriers can mean they don't know that cervical screenings are available, Miss Turner explained.

Working with Leeds Sexual Health (LSE), the charity began the drop-in clinic just over a year ago.

The relaxed nature of the clinic, not having to make an appointment at a specific time, and the fact it's run by staff the women already have a relationship with means they can feel less worried about the procedure.

Miss Turner explained: "For victims of child sexual exploitation, smears can be very, very difficult, and for sex workers having someone that they know and trust is massively important.

"This service means those with more complex needs and who are more vulnerable can still access those health care services."

The clinic is run with nurses from LSE's outreach team who 'do anything they can to give as many possibilities to people as possible to access health care', Miss Turner said.

Since the clinic began, 19 women have had a smear test at Basis.

Though that sounds small, Miss Turner explained they still encourage women to go to their GP for screenings but the drop-in service provides an alternative.

She said: "We just want to do everything we can to give hard to reach people as many options as possible because they have the right to public health services."

In addition to smear tests, Basis offer STI testing, HPV vaccinations and hepatitis C clinics.

Amber Wilson, Business Development and Marketing Manager at Basis, added: "If there's a health issue affecting everyone, then there will be hard to reach people who struggle to get access to those services."

She said that it was only through the trust the women have in the team at Basis that they learned of the need for a screening clinic during the initial needs assessment.

"If we never asked the question we wouldn't have found out and they wouldn't have told us if we didn't have the relationship with them."

Miss Turner said that she hopes this model could be rolled out in different organisations working with different groups of women to encourage as many women as possible to get their smear test.