Here's how heading back to work might affect our smear tests

·4-min read
Photo credit: Menshalena - Getty Images
Photo credit: Menshalena - Getty Images

As more and more of us return to the office after a year of working-from-home, the ease at which we've been able to take time off for important check ups, like smear tests, could be at risk.

Earlier this month, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust revealed that 23% of full-time workers found that home-working during the pandemic made attending medical appointments easier. But, the charity worries that this progress could be undone as a result of the big-return-to-work.

In its survey of 1020 women and people with a cervix, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust "sadly found many workers report using annual leave, sick leave or even unpaid leave to attend appointments with 10% saying they had used annual leave more than once to attend cervical screening."

In fact, 1 in 5 women and people with a cervix said they'd used annual leave when booking in their smear test.

In light of their survey, and to coincide with Gynaecological Cancer Awareness month (September), the charity is aiming to "highlight the roles employers can play in supporting staff to attend potentially life saving screening."

Out of the 1020 women and people with a cervix who took part in the research, "62% said that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off to look after their health."

But, it's not just a lack of workplace support that's to blame. As the research revealed 38% of those surveyed said they "were unable to get a convenient appointment last time they tried to book," and "1 in 10 were only offered appointments they could not make."

Speaking about the findings, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said: "Getting a test around working hours is a significant factor, especially for those who work shifts or who travel to work."

The charity added that they are "concerned" given that "1 in 3 say they feel less able to take time off to attend medical appointments because of the pandemic."

"Reasons cited for work being a challenge include inflexible bosses, too much work, shift patterns and it being difficult to ask to attend."

To raise awareness, the charity has launched their 'Time to Test' campaign, which aims to "encourage employers to play their part in raising the profile of cervical screening and cervical cancer in the workplace and empower their team to look after their cervical health". The campaign also asks employers to ensure their staff can attend cervical screening in a way that is convenient for them if they can’t get appointments outside working time.

Pointing out the importance of the campaign, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Samantha Dixon said: "There are many barriers to cervical screening but work is a very practical one which we can and should try to tackle. Whilst every workplace is different, we’re calling on employers to find a way to offer their staff Time to Test, especially as we start returning to offices, we must try to avoid putting more barriers in place."

She continued, "It’s worrying to see so many having to take annual or sick leave to attend a routine medical appointment, which will lead to some delaying. Employers can help stop this and make cervical screening and cervical health visible and important in the workplace, so more women and people with a cervix feel confident and informed enough to attend."

One person who welcomed the campaign is Hayley Prince from Manchester, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2009. "I work for the NHS and was a single mum at the time. Being so busy, I found it a struggle to get an appointment at a time to suit without having to take a day's holiday. A Saturday morning would have been brilliant but they didn’t offer them," she explains. "I was a few months over my call up, due to trying to get an appointment I could get to."

Hayley adds: "My treatment involved chemotherapy and internal and external radiotherapy and thankfully I got the all clear, but I dread to think what could have happened if I put it off any longer. I feel that, being such an important screening, we should be allowed the time to attend a smear test in the same way as employers have to allow you to attend an antenatal appointment. Educating managers on the importance of a smear test and how it can potentially save your life is key."

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust's data shows that cervical screening (smear tests) prevents around 75% of cancers from starting. And, on top of that, screening identifies women and people with a cervix who are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

"Cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer and saves thousands of lives every year," the charity emphasises.

Whether you're an employer or an employee, you can find out more about the Time to Test campaign here.

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