Coronavirus: Cervical cancer fears over smear test delay

By Sarah Easedale
BBC News

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media captionKatherine Parr's test showed abnormal cells, leaving her "worrying for a year"

A woman whose smear test showed abnormal cells fears the suspension of testing during the coronavirus pandemic could lead to cancer going undetected.

Katherine Parr, 48, had a routine test in March 2019 and her results letter from Cervical Screening Wales said she should be seen again in 12 months.

But Ms Parr, of Wrexham, was told by her GP's surgery that routine tests were cancelled during the outbreak.

Public Health Wales said it was working to find a way through the crisis.

Ms Parr said when she rang Gardden Road Surgery in Rhosllanerchrugog to book her follow-up appointment, she was told to call back in a month, which she did, and was subsequently told there were still no tests being done and to call again next month.

image sourceKatherine Parr
image captionKatherine Parr has been waiting 14 months for another smear test and does not know when she will be able to get one

She said: "The surgery says 'don't worry, these things take years to develop'. So, why call me back in a year?

"I know it could be fine, but I have been worrying for a year."

Her MP, Sarah Atherton, took up her case and wrote to Health Minister Vaughan Gething who replied saying the NHS was dealing with an "unprecedented situation".

image sourceGoogle
image captionKatherine Parr does not know when she will be able to get a smear test at Gardden Road Surgery

Mr Gething said many people who attended screening programmes were in a higher-risk category for Covid-19 and it was "essential we minimise risk to those people", adding it was a temporary measure and screening would be resumed at the earliest opportunity when it was safe to do so.

Ms Parr said she understood the situation was difficult, but worried many women would be in the same position as her: "Risk management is needed, but not at the expense of the other conditions. I feel it's important to raise it - many people won't.

"This could cost the NHS more in the long term... there are going to be increased diseases because things have just been left."

Dr Ardiana Gjini, cancer screening lead for PHW, said all GP practices in Wales were told as of 20 March the sending out of invitations or reminders for cervical screening would be paused, but the advice was under constant review.

She added: "However, sample takers across Wales have been advised that if they are still able and consider it safe to run cervical screening clinics, then this is fully supported by Public Health Wales.

"This position is in line with evidence that cell changes on the cervix usually take many years to develop, so it is unlikely that a short delay in having a cervical screening test will cause any significant problems."

Gardden Road Surgery said it was unable to discuss individual patient care, but was following PHW's guidance about screening.

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