Background: The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to an unprecedented upheaval within global healthcare systems and resulted in the temporary pausing of the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland Cervical Screening Programme. With several months of backlogs in appointments, there has not only been a reduction in primary samples being taken for human papilloma virus (HPV) testing but there have also been fewer women referred to colposcopy for investigation and treatment of precancerous or cancerous changes as a result. Encouraging uptake for cervical screening was always a priority before the pandemic, but it is even more important now, considering that the fears and barriers to screening that women may have are now exacerbated by COVID-19.

Objectives: This article explores the impact of the pandemic on the uptake of cervical screening within NHS Ayrshire & Arran and evaluates potential strategies to improve uptake now and in future such as self-sampling and telemedicine.

Methods: This article presents evidence-based literature and local health board data relating to cervical screening during the pandemic.

Results: Human papilloma virus self-sampling carried out by the woman in her home has been shown to improve uptake, especially in non-attenders, whilst maintaining a high sensitivity and, crucially, reducing the need for face-to-face contact. Increased education is key to overcoming barriers women have to screening and telemedicine can strengthen engagement with women during this time.

Conclusion: There are lessons to be learned from the pandemic, and we must use this opportunity to improve cervical screening uptake for the future.


This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

Cite as

Masson, H. 2021, 'Cervical Pap smears and pandemics: the effect of COVID-19 on screening uptake and opportunities to improve', Women's Health, 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/17455065211017070

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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