One in five women in Blackpool are waiting too long for their smear tests results.
Despite a mandatory 14-day turnaround time being introduced in 2010 – a target which must be met in at least 98 per cent of cases – just 80 per cent of 1,690 women screened in Blackpool in the 12 months to July had their results within two weeks.
Yet the performance on the Fylde coast was still above the national average, with almost half of three million results in England being late.
Just 16 out of 195 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which are responsible for organising and paying for residents’ health care, met the 98 per cent target. One, East Staffordshire, failed to get any results out on time, figures released by Public Health England under freedom of information laws showed.
Robert Music, chief executive of cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust, said: “Lots of people have approached us through our helpline saying they are waiting 12, 14, 16 weeks for their results. It is creating anxiety, which is not a healthy thing, and our concern is that it could put women off attending their appointments. With screening attendance already at a 20-year low, that is worrying.”
Smear tests are aimed at detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. Finding and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Upcoming changes to the way screenings are carried out were blamed by the backlog across the country. A new test, which will look for the cancer-causing HPV virus straight away, rather than for abnormal cells in the cervix, will be rolled out next year.
Fewer cytologists – the scientists who study the samples – will be needed, Mr Music said, and this has caused staff shortages as they leave for new jobs ahead of the change.
Cancer Research UK said it understood the challenge the NHS is facing, but said it was important for turnaround times to be reduced “as quickly as possible.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said health chiefs were “committed” to the change, which she said “will identify more women at risk and save more lives”.
Public Health England said it was “supporting and advising” NHS England’s “efforts to ensure women receive their screening results within 14 days.”