A shortage of GPs (general practitioners) in the U.K. has led to women having to wait several months, or be placed on a waiting list indefinitely, for a pap smear test despite actively trying to book an appointment.
Buzzfeed UK reported on the issue telling the story of Stacy Edgington, a 30-year-old woman from Birmingham who has a history for cancer in her family, which was part of her motivation to try to get a pap smear. She’s been waiting five months and hasn’t even been able to schedule an appointment.
For those unaware of why a pap smear test is so important, here is the deal. Cancer of the cervix (cervical cancer), is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death among women worldwide. The best way to detect it is by having regular Papanicolaou tests, or Pap smears. So a Pap smear takes samples from the uterine cervix to test for cancerous cells.
This includes infections from HPV, which is not only known to cause cervical cancer, but is also the most common STI. Since a lot of time there is no way to know if you have HPV or not, it is important for women to get these check-ups. Especially because early detection and treatment is the best way to save women’s lives.
Edgington told BuzzFeed, “I went to the doctors the same day and asked for an appointment and have been on average once a month since to see if they have appointments […] I am on a list which is a piece of paper floating around the reception area.”
When Edgington tried to visit her local sexual health clinic, she found they were also completely booked. “They said in December that I would need to come back in January, then when I visited in January they told me they no longer do them and to contact my GP,” she continued.
Because there is only one practice nurse able to perform smear tests at her GP surgery, Edgington remains on the waiting list. This is a huge problem because women aged 25 to 49 are most at risk of developing cervical cancer. Plus, this isn’t just Edgington’s local issue.
Lucinda, a 26-year-old from London, said “It took me over two months to get an appointment with my local surgery. When I finally got one at the beginning of November 2017, I was turned away because they told me they didn’t have my records on the screening register.”
When she, like Edgington attempted to go to a sex health center there was more pushback. “The nurse said she couldn’t give me a screening and no other service in the area would be able to either until my records made it onto this register [..] I could get a smear with a GP but only if I had symptoms which I don’t.”
A 30-year-old woman from London, who did not want to share her name, has only managed to get an appointment for a smear test after eight months of waiting because she has agreed to take a day off work.
Unfortunately it doesn’t take 5 minutes to actually get a damn appointment for it. It’s impossible 🤷🏼♀️and the surgery shuts before I finish work so I can’t get up there to book one in person pic.twitter.com/y2NgX016B2
— vicki (@mishtisharmas) January 23, 2018
This is beyond unacceptable and not simply an issue in the U.K. When I have tried to book appointments with Planned Parenthood I’ve had to look several weeks in advance. Thankfully, I have options due to health insurance, but even then it is a matter of fitting it into your work schedule.
All of the NHS’s attempts to get women tested means nothing if they do not have the resources to provide for the women coming forward. According to Buzzfeed, NHS England declined to comment on the reaction the campaign has received on social media from women who cannot get screening appointments.
“It’s obviously very important that they are encouraging women to go, but I think some focus should be put on women who are trying to get a test and ‘doing the right thing’ but getting nowhere,” Lucinda said. “If you’re going to run a campaign like this, you need to make sure you are actually able to provide the tests.”
In 2015, public health budgets were cut by £200 million, and are expected to lose a further £331 million by 2021, which has seriously impacted local sexual health services. Many are no longer offering cervical screening or have closed entirely.
“Its seems so crazy that you can’t get a sexual health check, smear, and coil check all at one time,” a 30-year-old from London, who can no longer get a smear at her sexual health clinic, told us. “That means three different appointments and three different places, I have found it very frustrating.”
Women have always fought for access to their health and now, the one way they can test for cervical cancer (a cancer only women can get) is being made less and less available. Not only is this irresponsible, it is dangerous. Women’s lives are being put in danger needlessly and if NHS doesn’t start figuring out a way to get these women access to something, we could be risking a future where women find out they are at risk for this deadly cancer when they are older, and their chances of recovery are much slimmer.
It is hard enough to find a good doctor and go through the process of getting a pap done. Governments should be making this easier—not harder.
(via Buzzfeed News, image: HBO)
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