As we mark Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, charities including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have urged people to get screened

Women with learning disabilities are half as likely to have had cervical screenings as those without (Graphic: Mark Hall/JPIMedia)

Women with learning disabilities are half as likely to have undergone cervical screenings as those without, according to a new analysis of NHS England data by NationalWorld.

Less than a third of women and people with cervical cancer who have a learning disability are up to date on important cancer screenings, while not even one in 20 has been screened in part from England.

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Two leading charities said the discrepancy was partly due to a ‘damaging misconception’ on the part of GPs assuming that women with a learning disability are not sexually active and do not need to be invited to screening.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual activity.

As we mark Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, charities including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have urged people to get screened.

Analysis of NHS data shows that just 31.5% of women on GP registers with a diagnosed learning disability had been correctly screened in March 2021, compared to 69.9% for those without learning disabilities .

Women between the ages of 25 and 49 should be invited for screening every three years, while those between the ages of 50 and 64 are invited every five years. Patients are considered adequately screened if they have had one within the last 3.5 or 5.5 years respectively.

Coverage was slightly higher for both groups of women before Covid, but still showed a similar gap, with 33.6% of women with disabilities screened in March 2020, compared to 71.8% of those without disorders. ‘learning.

NHS England’s data collection is designed to “provide insight into key differences in healthcare between people with a learning disability and those without”.

However, GPs participating in voluntary data collection only cover 56% of patients in England.

The latest data showed that in Bath and North East Somerset not even one in 20 women with learning disabilities were screened for cervical cancer by GPs attendees.

Only 4.5% of people with learning disabilities were up to date with screening, compared to 66.3% for women without disabilities.

However, the GPs who submitted data represented only 3% of patients in the region, with records showing that only one of the 22 mentally disabled women captured had been screened.

The Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) did not respond to a request for comment.

This is followed by Ipswich and East Suffolk GCC, with 16.7% of patients with learning difficulties screened (4% of patients captured by participating GPs), followed by North East Essex GCC in 18% (42% of patients in the captured area).

Why do women with learning disabilities face a health gap?

Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at learning disabilities charity Mencap, said women with a learning disability are less likely to have had cervical screenings due to a variety of issues.

Previous research has identified that GPs assume women with a learning disability are not sexually active and therefore do not need to be asked for screening, he said.

Women with learning disabilities may also suffer from a lack of accessible information and properly trained staff to support them, research has shown, while healthcare staff may also fear that patients do not have the capacity to consent.

“This is one aspect of a big issue about the health care barriers faced by people with learning disabilities,” Scorer added.

His comments were echoed by Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, who said cervical screening could be more difficult for various groups, including women with learning disabilities.

Again, Ms Dixon said one of the reasons for this is that “many have been told by their healthcare professional that the test was not relevant to them as they were presumed not to be sexually active. , which is a damaging misconception”. .

She said there was also a need for easy-to-read information on cervical screening and resources for caregivers, “so that women with learning disabilities can be fully informed about what that the test involves”.

NHS England did not respond to a request for comment.

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