MP urges ministers to tackle ‘worrying’ decline in cervical cancer tests

Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff
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A Yorkshire MP has urged the Government to do more to promote cervical cancer screenings among young and ethnic minority women, as she warns uptake of has reached a 19-year low

In a debate to mark cervical cancer prevention week, the Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff cited “worrying” new figures which reveal more than a quarter of women are not getting regular tests.

The Labour MP highlighted particular concerns about a lack of understanding and awareness of screening among BAME women, while warning that in some communities women are experiencing cultural pressures to “maintain” their virginity.

She called on ministers to do more to prioritise the issue, and to increase uptake among these hard-to-reach groups.

“Successive Governments have developed a successful cervical screening programme [which] is responsible for saving an estimated 5,000 lives a year,” she said.

“That is to be applauded, but it should not be taken for granted.

“Recent years have seen a drop in cervical screening coverage, and this risks an increase in the incidence of cervical cancer and the danger of further unnecessary deaths when we have been very close to making a breakthrough.

“The general rule of cancer is that early diagnosis leads to a better prognosis... It benefits everyone involved if cervical cancer can be prevented, or detected and treated early.”

According to the latest figures for 2015-16, just 72.7 percent of women attended cervical screenings last year, compared to 75.7 percent in 2011.

The biggest decline has been among 45-49 year olds, but organisations like Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have raised concerns about the lack of uptake among younger age groups and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups.

The charity has forecast that if screening rates continue to fall by another 5 percent, the incidences of cervical cancer will increase 16 percent among 60-64 year olds and 85 percent among 70-74 year olds by 2040.

But it claims that if all women were regularly screened, it could save the NHS up to £10m a year.

Responding to Ms Sherriff, health minister David Mowat agreed that the Government needs to do more to boost screening uptake across all ages and backgrounds.

“This is not a party issue—all of us are against cervical cancer. However, it is right that we challenge the postcode lottery that she mentioned and discuss ways to improve the take up of screening,” he said.