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Cervical screening coverage falls

10 November 2015: Fall in percentage of test results received within two weeks

*HSCIC must be quoted as the source of these figures

*Regional data is available within this report

Cervical screening coverage2 has fallen, according to statistics published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

As at 31 March 2015, screening coverage across all women in the age range invited for regular cervical screening under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme was 73.5 per cent, down from 74.2 per cent a year before and from 75.7 per cent in 20113.

Coverage was lowest among women in the 25 to 49-year-old age group (71.2 per cent). This is down from 71.8 per cent last year and 73.7 per cent in 2011. Among women in the 50 to 64-year-old age group, coverage was 78.4 per cent this year, compared to 79.4 per cent last year and 80.1 per cent in 2011.

Cervical screening departments are expected to ensure that at least 98 per cent of result letters are received by post within two weeks of the test5. Today's report calculates that 91.0 per cent of letters were received within this timeframe6, compared to 93.7 per cent in 2013-14.

Cervical screening is intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix that could, if undetected and untreated, develop into cervical cancer. Today's report; Cervical Screening Programme, England, Statistics for 2014-15, is used to inform policy and to monitor the quality and effectiveness of screening services. It also shows that:

  • 4.31 million women aged 25 to 64 were invited for screening in 2014-15 and 3.12 million women were tested7, a fall of 3.3 per cent from 2013-14 when 3.23 million were tested.
  • At a regional level, coverage of the full target age group (25 to 64 years) at 31 March 2015 ranged from 68.4 per cent in London to 76.3 per cent in the East Midlands, compared to 70.3 per cent and 76.6 per cent respectively last year.
  • Among women aged 25 to 64 with adequate8 tests in 2014-15: (a) 93.6 per cent had a negative result (b) 6.4 per cent had a result categorised as abnormal9 - from borderline change through to potential cervical cancer (c) 1.3 per cent had a result showing a high-grade abnormality.

Responsible Statistician Pritpal Rayat said: "Today's report highlights a fall in cervical screening coverage for both younger and older women.

"This will be of concern to health professionals and organisations with a focus on cervical cancer and I hope this report will be useful to them in planning their future work in this important area."

You can view the full report at:


Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established on April 1 2013 as an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB). It is England's trusted data source, delivering high quality information and IT systems to drive better patient services, care and outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 260 statistical publications annually; providing a range of specialist data services; managing informatics projects and programmes and developing and assuring national systems against appropriate contractual, clinical safety and information standards.
  2. National policy is that women are offered screening every three or five years depending on their age. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for routine screening every three years, whereas those aged 50 to 64 are invited for routine screening every five years. Coverage is defined as the percentage of women in a population who were eligible for screening on March 31 in any given year and who were screened adequately within a specified period (within 3.5 years for women aged 25-49, and within 5.5 years for women aged 50-64). This measure is known as 'Age-appropriate coverage' and is also used in the Public Health Outcomes Framework. Women ineligible for screening and not included in coverage are those whose recall has been ceased for clinical reasons (most commonly due to hysterectomy).
  3. The measure that covers all women in the ages invited for routine screening is only available from 2011 onwards.
  4. Numbers in this press release above one million are rounded to two decimal places. Percentages are rounded to one decimal place.
  6. Time from screening to receipt of results is measured using an expected delivery date based on the date of letter printing and the postage class used by the screening department.
  7. Of those aged 25 to 64 tested in the year, over 2.55 million (81.9 per cent) were tested following an invitation from the screening programme. The remaining 565,088 women (18.1 per cent) had screening tests not prompted by the programme, i.e. test initiated by the sample taker or by the woman, without her necessarily having been invited by the screening programme.
  8. In a small proportion of cases the pathology laboratory is unable to assess the cells on the cytology slide to give a result and the test is considered inadequate. In such cases women are asked to return for a repeat test three months later.
  9. An abnormal test result includes borderline change, low-grade dyskaryosis (dyskaryosis is a term used to describe changes in the cells of the cervix), high-grade dyskaryosis (moderate), high-grade dyskaryosis (severe) and potential cancer (i.e. high-grade dyskaryosis/suspected invasive squamous carcinoma and suspected glandular neoplasia of endocervical type). A high-grade abnormality includes results of high-grade dyskaryosis (moderate), high-grade dyskaryosis (severe) and potential cancer.
  10. For media enquiries please contact or 0300 30 33 888.
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