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Cervical Cancer

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2019

We have some of the highest HPV—human papillomavirus—vaccination rates in the world. This month we launched a major new national campaign to increase the number of women attending cervical screening across England, and throughout the NHS long-term plan we have committed to radically overhaul screening programmes and further invest in the latest technology to transform diagnosis and boost research and innovation.

Figures from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust show that 200,000 women in Greater Manchester have missed their smear test, including half of women aged 25 to 29, yet we know that smear tests save lives. What are the Government doing to raise awareness of the importance of attending screening to prevent cervical cancer?

My hon. Friend is right: cervical screening saves up to 5,000 lives every year, so we cannot do enough to encourage women to take advantage of the screening. It is not the most pleasant experience to go through, but it can save lives. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the screening, and we will continue to do our best to promote it.

In Newcastle, cervical screening rates have fallen since 2010: they range from 85% to just 23% and are consistently lower in poorer areas and among younger women and ethnic minority women, and across the UK women are more likely to die in more deprived areas. What specifically is the Minister doing not just to encourage women to attend but to make screening more available at the weekends, out of hours and closer to where people live?

The hon. Lady makes some excellent points and highlights those areas of the community where take-up is much lower. We need to be more imaginative about how we promote the need for screening, and in that regard I am very pleased to see the work of Jo’s Trust, and also that of the Eve Appeal to raise awareness. We can all do our bit, and I would encourage everyone to spread the word about the need to get screened.

I, too, want to start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders)—he is a big loss to the Front Bench—and also to the Minister I used to shadow, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine). Credit where it is due: I know cancer charities and campaigners are all tweeting their regret, because the hon. Gentleman was, and hopefully will remain, a true ally of that cause.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women. Smear tests can prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing, but one in four women do not attend their smear tests and screening is now at a 21-year low. This was not helped by the failure of the outsourced screening to Capita, which failed to write to 48,000 women in six months. What are the Government going to do to ensure that women and girls know what happens at a smear test, what it is for and why it is so important?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have brought that service back in-house, but we should leave no stone unturned in relation to thinking more imaginatively about how we spread the word about the need for screening. I should like to pay tribute to those celebrities who have tweeted pictures of themselves going for their smear tests, because it is only by normalising it and ensuring that everyone realises that it is something they should do that we are going to encourage take-up.