Decrease in number of people having cervical screening tests in 2020-21, new statistics show

14 December 2021
2 min read

Latest annual figures on cervical screening show the number of individuals being tested fell slightly in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.

Cervical Screening Programme, England 2020-21, which was published recently by NHS Digital, presents information on individuals aged 25-64 who were invited for regular screening1.

The publication includes the numbers invited for screening, the number of tests on screening samples sent to pathology laboratories, the results of the samples taken and the time taken to return results. It also shows the change in the cervical screening programme’s coverage in England compared to previous years.

Disruption from coronavirus (Covid-19) is not thought to have significantly affected the quality of the data submitted for 2020-21, however it is likely to have had an effect on activity2. These statistics should therefore be interpreted with care.

In 2020-21, 4.59m individuals were invited for screening - a one per cent decrease on 2019-20, when the figure was 4.63m.

The number of tests carried out also fell. A total of 3.03m individuals aged 25 to 64 were tested - a decrease of 5.3 per cent compared to the previous year, when 3.20m were tested.

In 2020-21, 70.2 per cent of eligible individuals aged 25 to 64 had last been screened within the required number of years. This represents a drop in coverage of two percent from the previous year, when coverage was 72.2 per cent.

On March 31, 2021, coverage was lower in the 25 to 49 age group – it decreased to 68 per cent, from 70.2 per cent in 2020.

In the 50 to 64 age group, coverage decreased to 74.7 per cent in 2021 from 76.1 per cent in 2020.

Across both age ranges, regional coverage varied from 64.7 per cent in London to 75.5 per cent in the North East. All screening regions reported a decrease compared with 2020.

No local authorities reached 80 per cent coverage, whilst 91 out of 149 had coverage levels of 70 per cent and above, a decrease of 12 compared to 2020.

Coverage ranged from 45.8 per cent in Kensington and Chelsea (London) to 78.4 per cent in Derbyshire (East Midlands).

The report also shows the number of individuals referred for colposcopy, a procedure to look at the cervix.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) primary screening was fully implemented in December 2019, which means that a sample is first tested for HPV and where the test result is positive, a cytology screen is then performed3. Those who have a HPV positive screen with an abnormal cytology result are referred to colposcopy.

In 2020-21, there were 176,561 referrals to colposcopy, compared to 191,563 in 2019-20.