GP practices trialling HPV home testing could trigger national cervical screening overhaul

Female patients from 166 GP practices in London will be offered HPV home testing kits as part of a new study that is aiming to boost uptake of cervical screening and could see the tests adopted across England.

GPs and practice nurses will also be handing out the home testing kits opportunistically (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GPs and practice nurses will also be handing out the home testing kits opportunistically (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

Some 31,000 women aged 25-64 from practices in the London boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets will be offered the tests as part of the YouScreen trial, which is being run by NHS England, Public Health England and King’s College London.

The boroughs have been selected because they are areas where attendance for cervical screening is particularly low.

Around 19,000 women who are at least 15 months overdue attending for their standard smear test will be sent a home testing kit by post. A further 12,000 women, who are at least six months overdue a check-up, will be offered a home testing kit by their GP or practice nurse if they attend the surgery for another reason.

Research has shown that 99% of women are able to effectively carry out the self swab, NHS England said.

Cervical screening tests

Women who take part will be able to post their completed swab back to the NHS Cervical Screening Programme's laboratory in London for free. Results will be sent back directly to patients and their practice, and if HPV is detected those patients will be invited for a standard smear test at their surgery as a follow up. The trial will run until December 2021.

The YouScreen study is part of a national evaluation of HPV self sampling being undertaken by Public Health England (PHE).

PHE's national cervical screening programme manager Ruth Stubbs said: 'This study is the first step in getting closer to HPV self-sampling at home for women across England. London has the lowest cervical screening coverage in the country and is ideal for testing this study. It will evaluate the impact on improving cervical screening participation in London.'

GP Dr Clare Stephens, who is clinical co-director of the North Central London Cancer Alliance, which co-chairs the study’s steering group, said the trial was a 'significant step forward' for cervical cancer prevention and she hoped it would pave the way for more widespread adoption of self sampling.

HPV self sampling

She said: 'We have done a huge amount of work to set up the study with King’s College London, including recruiting 166 GP practices into the study to enable cervical screening non-attenders on their lists to be mailed, and ensuring that YouScreen test results are incorporated into the NHS England Cervical Screening Programme.

'GPs, practice nurses and healthcare assistants in the participating practices can also offer YouScreen kits opportunistically to women overdue their test and they have been trained to carry this out this process. Our local GP community has been enthusiastic in supporting this study.'

Study lead Dr Anita Lim from King’s College London said self sampling could be a 'game-changer' for cervical screening.

She said: 'We know many women aren't coming forward for screening and almost half of women in some parts of London aren't up to date with their cervical screening. It's an intimate procedure and a variety of barriers can stop people from attending, even though it can be a life-saving test. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home.'

Research suggests that embarrassment, as well as cultural barriers, are often key reasons why women fail to attend their cervical screening appointment.

Kate Sanger from healthcare charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust sad that self sampling helped to remove many of the challenges to cervical screening. 'Through our research we know it is very much wanted by women,' she added.

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