Women With Disabilities Are Struggling To Access Cervical Screening

In a survey, just 1% said their GP surgery provides a hoist, yet 23% said they need one to get onto the examination bed.
Francesco Carta fotografo via Getty Images

Women with disabilities are struggling to access cervical screening, a charity has warned, potentially putting them at risk of cervical cancer.

Two thirds of women surveyed said they have been unable to attend as a result of their disability, with many facing resistance and stigma along the way, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

The majority (88%) feel it is harder for women with a disability to attend cervical screening, while half have purposely chosen not to attend due to a previous bad experience related to their disability, or worry about how people might react.

Jo Moss has ME and fibromyalgia, and tried to access cervical screening for eight years before finally receiving a smear test. “My condition means that I cannot sit or stand for more than five minutes without pain or dizziness and I am therefore unable to leave my bed,” she said.

“I assumed that because I was able to get home appointments for injections or dental care, it would be just as easy to organise a home visit for screening. I was wrong. It’s so important that we make this test accessible to everyone and raise awareness of the barriers that are preventing us from accessing it.”

Jo Moss
Jo Moss
Jo Moss

The latest survey focused on women with physical disabilities, speaking to 335 women about their experiences. Just 1% of respondents said their GP surgery provides a hoist, yet 23% need one to get onto the examination bed.

Almost half of those questioned said they feel like their needs have been forgotten and 40% feel GPs or nurses don’t understand their needs or take them seriously.

HuffPost UK has previously spoken to women with learning disabilities, their carers and charity workers about the struggles they also have accessing cervical screening.

Outdated misconceptions about women with learning disabilities, plus misunderstanding about cervical screening, may be one reason for the gap, Dave Robinson from learning disabilities charity Dimensions, told us.

“There is an assumption within our society that women with learning disabilities aren’t sexually active,” he said. “Whilst this is absolutely not the case, it is also recommended that women should have the screening if they are sexually active or not.”

“Just 1% of respondents said their GP surgery provides a hoist, yet 23% need one to get onto the examination bed.”

In the UK, there are around 18 million people with a disability or long-term health condition. Cervical screening prevents 75% of cervical cancers from developing yet screening uptake in the UK is at a 21-year low.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is calling for GP practices to review their policies, along with training and inspections to address adjustments for women with a wide range of disabilities.

The charity is further calling for research looking at the most effective way of offering cervical screening to women with a physical disability, including feasibility of HPV self-sampling.

“I am shocked by the inequality that exists in accessing cervical screening across the UK,” said Robert Music, chief executive at the charity.

“There is a duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments so that people with disabilities are not disadvantaged compared to people without disabilities.”