New figures show cervical screening coverage still below national targets

Posted 27 November 2020

Date: 27 Nov 2020

Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements

Figures released today by NHS Digital show that only 72.2% of eligible women (aged 25 to 64) received cervical screening within an appropriate time bracket between 2018 and 2019.

This represents a small increase of 0.3% from the previous year. However, the rate is significantly below the national target of 80% coverage.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year. Around 99.8% of cases are preventable.

Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:

“Cervical screening is a vital test to detect early changes to the cervix and early treatment to prevent development into cervical cancer. Screening rates have fallen far below the national target of 80% coverage for years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some areas, it is significantly below this, meaning that women living in these areas are at greater risk of an entirely preventable illness."

“With the pandemic currently causing significant disruption to services, we can expect a long-term fall in coverage rates unless services within both GPs and sexual and reproductive healthcare services are restored.

“Furthermore, many women prefer to access cervical screening at sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) services. However, funding cuts and a fragmented commissioning system have created extra barriers for women. The number of screenings in SRH services has fallen substantially in the last five years. Cervical screening is not a mandated requirement for local authority commissioning and is not included in many service specifications.

“We know that women’s lack of time and concerns about discomfort also play a part in many women not accessing regular cervical screening. Currently, we are missing out on opportunities to make these services more accessible and acceptable to women by integrating them with other routine sexual and reproductive health services.

“Commissioning specialist clinics to offer opportunistic screening is one way of improving our services by better structuring them around the needs and availability of women.”

Notes to editors:

  • Latest figures by NHS Digital for the NHS Cervical Screening Programme 2018-2019 can be found here.
  • Women are offered screening every three or five years depending on their age. Women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for regular cervical screening under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. Coverage is defined as the percentage of women eligible for screening at a given point in time who were screened adequately within a specified period (within 3.5 years for women aged 25 to 49, and within 5.5 years for women aged 50 to 64).
  • Cancer Research UK figures can be found here.
  • The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. For more information please visit: