Cervical screening paused due to COVID-19

Tuesday 31st March 2020

Due to the rapidly changing situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and NHS resources dedicated to tackling the virus, Governments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland have announced a temporary pause in a number of screening programmes including cervical screening. In England, non-urgent screening will be deferred in some areas.

It is understood that this may cause some anxiety for those due to attend their screening appointment but a pause on these services will help to minimise face to face contact and to concentrate health resources on the pandemic.

In practice this means no additional patients will be invited for screening until further notice. Results for those who have recently been screened or who have completed and returned home test kits will continue to be processed.

For those who have had a recent cervical screen (smear), in the current COVID crisis, in line with screening programme guidance, women who have a result which suggests high grade or invasive disease will continue to have appointments sent to them within 2 weeks of referral. For borderline, low-grade or persistent high-risk HPV positive results, the colposcopy appointment will be deferred for 3-6 months. This is to minimise face to face consultations within the hospital environment to protect both the patient and the clinician. Your local colposcopy service will advise you if a non-urgent existing appointment has been deferred.

Although a cervical screening result may indicate pre-cancerous changes in the cervical cells (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia – CIN), the development from CIN to invasive cancer can take many years.

If you have any symptoms, such as: -

    Vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods or after the menopause

    Vaginal discharge that is not normal for you

    Persistent back or tummy pains, or pain during sex

please speak to someone at your GP surgery, even if you have had a normal screening test.

This decision has been taken considering the balance of risk against the risk of contracting coronavirus. Also, by reducing non-urgent health appointments and procedures, staff and resources can be redirected to support the response to COVID-19. The move means healthcare staff can be re-allocated to support other essential services, including COVID-19 laboratory testing and covering for colleagues who are unwell or self-isolating.

If you already have an appointment booked for cervical screening please check with your GP or clinic whether they can still offer you an appointment.

If your appointment is cancelled please do not worry, you will be sent a further letter to make an appointment when your local services are able to offer cervical screening again.

Support is available here to help alleviate fears for women with low grade or minor cytological abnormalities or persistent HPV positive results who will not be undergoing a diagnostic colposcopy in the short term. Colposcopy clinics will ensure that a tracking system is in place so that patients can be seen in the future when resources permit.

If you have a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature, please follow the self-isolation guidance here.