Today sees the start of Cervical Screening Awareness Week, with Jo's Trust and The Eve Appeal joining forces to hopefully encourage us all to ensure we have a smear test. Whilst the Jade Goody effect saw more younger women heading to their GP's for their often dreaded appointment, older women are still not taking up the chance of an appointment. Cervical cancer is not just a young womans disease, even though prevalence is greater in the under thirties age group.
As a woman in now in her...ahem...forties, finding time for that appointment is difficult. Even though I am only expected to attend every three years and it only takes five minutes, there are barriers. Unfortunately my GP's surgery doesn't open beyond 6pm, which really doesn't fit with my working hours, as I am never home before 7pm. Getting through the automated answer service to actually speak to a receptionist requires a degree and then the voice at the end of the phone is often condescending as you explain you can only attend on a particular date. Just trying to work out exactly which date is complicated, making sure it is mid cycle and on my rota'd day off! Perhaps Occupational Health at my NHS Trust could offer appointments for women to have their smear test, making it easier for the hundreds of women working at the hospital, avoiding those barriers that delay or prevent an appointment being made.
An even scarier thought is if I had symptoms that indicated signs of gynaecological cancers is the time it would take to make that first visit to the GP. Getting an appointment to see a female doctor is nye on impossible, at my surgery they seem to only work part time. Nevermind negoiating with the receptionist, who readily asks far more questions than necessary and beyond their need to know just to book me an appointment.
So before we tut or get cross at women for not attending their smear tests or not getting to the doctors sooner with symptoms, we need to make womens healthcare services more accessible. This is the 21st century, we should not have to use valuable annual leave to have a very necessary test, that could save our lives. As I have said before, do not ignore that dreaded letter, inviting you for a test that you would rather not have. Getting through the barriers and having your smear test can really save your life.
Until next time, take care.