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Cervical Screening in Wales

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On 1 January 2022 Cervical Screening Wales extended the routine cervical screening (‘smear test’) interval for women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 in Wales from 3 years to 5 years.

Following the announcement of the extension in the time period, there was widespread concern from many in Wales and a petition launched calling for the time period to revert to the previous 3-year testing interval has gained over 1 million signatures in support. An urgent Senedd debate has now been called to discuss the changes.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening (a ‘smear test’) checks the health of a person’s cervix. The test involves taking a sample of cells that are tested for a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). High-risk HPV can lead to changes in the cells of the cervix and can ultimately lead to cancer.

If HPV is found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of the cervix, which can then be treated before they get a chance to develop into cervical cancer.

If no high-risk HPV is found, the sample will not be checked for cell changes and no further screening will be carried out until the next routine screening test.

Why has the interval been extended?

In a written statement, the Minister for Health and Social Services has stated that the change has been made because current screening is more accurate than previous testing, allowing for cell changes to be found and treated earlier, and therefore less frequent screening is required for those who do not have HPV.

It is stated that the changes are in line with current recommendations put forward by the UK National Screening Committee.

What are the risks of a longer interval between testing?

Cervical screening helps prevent cancer from developing and saves thousands of lives every year in the UK.

Many are concerned that a longer delay between testing could lead to a delay in HPV and cervical cell changes being detected and mean that there may be missed opportunities for cervical changes to be picked up before they develop into cancer.

Particularly concerned are many of those who have not received an HPV vaccine, the immunisation programme for which only began in 2008.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Macmillan Cancer Support provide a list of possible symptoms of cervical cancer. These may include:-

  • Heavier periods than normal, bleeding between periods, after sex, or after the menopause
  • Discharge with an unusual smell
  • Recurring urine infections
  • Pain in the lower tummy or back

The early stages of cervical cancer may not have any symptoms and attending cervical screening is vital to early diagnosis.

Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should have them checked out by their GP as soon as possible and not wait until their next screening is due.

What if there is a negligent delay or failure to diagnose cervical cell changes?

Cervical screening plays a vital role in helping prevent cancer and Cancer Research UK figures show that 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable.

However, sadly there are some instances where a negligent delay or failure to make an accurate diagnosis means that cervical cell changes or cervical cancer is not detected when it should be. In terms of cervical screening, this might be due, for example, to an incorrectly or inaccurately performed smear test, or negligently interpreted or processed results. In such circumstances, a longer interval between screening tests could potentially mean a longer interval before the next opportunity for such changes to be detected.

Where there has been a negligent delay or failure in diagnosis, and that ultimately leads to more extensive treatment being required, or if it has a detrimental impact upon prognosis, which would otherwise have been avoided, then an individual may wish to contemplate a legal claim for compensation for the injuries suffered. It is essential that, in such circumstances, a specialist solicitor is instructed who is experienced in dealing with cases involving delays in the diagnosis of cancer.

Rebecca Bennett is an Associate Solicitor in our Injury Services department who acts for and supports clients through medical negligence claims. Rebecca can be contacted on or 01792 529 667.