Suffolk GP Federation has made a successful bid for almost £130,000 to increase the uptake of potentially life-saving cervical screening across the county by targeting specific groups.
It will be used to recruit a team of four nurses, two of whom will work in east Suffolk and the other two in the west. They will be known as “cervical screening health educators” and be registered cervical screening sample takers.
Dr Ruth Bushaway, the Federation’s Medical Director, said: “This work will build on an initiative that the Federation started in October last year to increase the uptake of cervical screening by providing weekday evening and weekend appointments.
“Suffolk GP Federation is passionate about addressing inequalities in health care and this service will target specific groups who are far less likely to accept their cervical smear invitation than others.
“These include women who have never had a smear, who live in deprived communities, who are from ethnic minorities or who have a learning disability or mental health issues.
“If you’re in one of these categories and some others, there is a real risk that cases of cervical cancer will not be spotted until it is too late for treatment. This is what drives us to want to make things better.”
The Federation has been awarded £129,335 by the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System’s (ICS) Cancer Transformation Programme.
Among the other groups that will be targeted are women aged 25-49 who have not been screened in four years, women aged 50-64 who have not had a smear test in six years and the LGBT community.
A vacancy for a cervical screening communications assistant has also been advertised to administer targeted marketing, educational material and events.
The service will work with health professionals, such as GPs, practice nurses and care co-ordinators, and also with social prescribers, patients, schools, colleges, the University of Suffolk, community leaders, community organisations and charities.
It will aim to educate women about cervical screening and its benefits, and to encourage and empower women to ask questions about a subject which they may previously have found difficult for various reasons.
Online educational sessions and focus groups will be provided and there will be targeted campaigns on social media. Other initiatives will include longer appointment slots, pre-appointment telephone consultations and language aids alongside other adjustments for women.
Dr Bushaway said similar services were available in other parts of England but she believed the extended service and education programme made possible by the £129,335 grant would be the first of its kind in the East of England.
Because many women know very little about cervical screening when they are invited for their first smear test at the age of 25, there would be a particular emphasis on educating young people, she added.
Since the Suffolk GP Federation started to manage cervical screening services six months ago, a total of 450 women have come forward. About 20% have been from ethnic minorities.
Dr Bushaway said she was pleased with this outcome but said more women would probably have undergone screening if COVID-19 had not been an issue, because the pandemic has made some people relatively wary about attending clinics, with many delaying their smear test as a result.
Dr Peter Holloway, a Mendlesham GP who is the GP Cancer Lead for the ICS, said: “There is still an urgent need to increase cervical screening rates in our local population.
“This initiative from the Suffolk GP Federation has already attracted national recognition, and we hope this funding will allow both sustainability and increase in scope.
“It is a superb example of active collaboration in primary care to increase early cancer diagnosis and so improve outcomes.”
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