VITAL smear tests are being missed in Barnsley because of some women’s reluctance to attend due to nervousness, embarrassment or anxiety – and more is set to be done to alleviate any hesitation in a bid to save lives.

Concern about the procedure is a common cause of so-called ‘smear fear’ and it was chosen as the theme for national Cervical Screening Awareness Week.

Recent declines in coverage have primarily been driven by falls in 25 to 49 year olds being screened – an age group which is invited for tests every three years.

Although uptake in Barnsley is now better than it is for England as a whole, the latest figures show around a third of those eligible did not take up the potentially lifesaving offer.

According to statistics relating to the third quarter of 2023/24, of the 42,254 eligible in the age group 31,421 were screened, which equates to 74.36 per cent.

In the 50 to 64 age bracket, 76.79 per cent of the 24,867 eligible went for a test.

Last year the NHS pledged to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 by making it as easy as possible for people to get the life-saving HPV vaccination and increasing the screening uptake by allaying women’s concerns over the procedure.

Dr Steph Edgar, GP and clinical lead for the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Cancer Alliance, said: “We understand that people invited for a smear test often go through a range of emotions and find reasons not to book or attend for an appointment.

“But there is a wealth of information available about what to expect during the screening procedure and how to prepare for it, not only by talking to your GP or practice nurses, but also by listening and talking to others through support groups, online forums and blogs, to hopefully help quell people’s fears.

“It’s so important for people to book and keep their appointments when invited as screening helps to save around 5,000 lives a year.”

Screening is key to preventing cervical cancer as it tests cells for human papillomavirus (HPV) which has potential to cause cell changes in the cervix, which may lead to cancer over time.

Trust lead for Macmillan, Sara Andrews, said: “I encourage all women to come forward for their cervical screening appointment when invited, and if you have missed an appointment, don’t wait around for another invitation – get in touch with your GP and book an appointment now.

“Diane Brookes, the colposcopy nurse specialist at the hospital, and the whole team are excellent and will treat you with respect and kindness.”

When cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 91 per cent but when it is diagnosed after it has spread to nearby tissues, organs, or regional lymph nodes, the five-year relative survival rate drops to 60 per cent.

Steve Russell, chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, added: “We have set an ambitious target of eliminating cervical cancer within the next two decades – one of the few countries in the world who have committed to this – and we are doing everything we can to achieve our ambition by making it as easy as possible to make appointments, and continuing to send invites and reminders to all eligible women.

“We know that it’s possible to achieve but it relies on millions of people continuing to come forward for screening and vaccinations every year.

“We are doing everything we can to achieve our ambition by making it as easy as possible to make appointments.

“I’d also encourage anyone who has previously received an invitation and may have been unable to attend at the time, not to wait until you get another invitation before contacting your GP practice.

“You can still book a cervical screening appointment even if you were invited weeks, months or years ago.”

Anna Hartley, executive director for public health and communities at Barnsley Council, praised the local authority and its partners for backing the awareness drive.

“There’s lots of great work happening locally to promote life-saving cervical cancer screenings and help people know what they can expect.

“We’re encouraging more positive conversations about getting checked with our Be That Friend campaign and working with community groups across Barnsley on a series of timely presentation projects.

“I want to encourage everyone to come forward when they’re invited for their smear test and to book in with your GP if you miss your appointment. Getting checked regularly could save your life.”