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Smear tests boost 'would save £10m'
The NHS could save millions of pounds every year if it was to increase the number of women who have smear tests, a new report suggests.
The health service in England could save almost £10 million annually if it was to encourage all eligible women to take part in cervical screening, according to think tank Demos.
It would also lead to a big reduction in the number of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
The authors of the report called for the introduction of "on the spot" smear tests so women can be offered a screening during another appointment to overcome the tendency of some women who "put off" their screening.
And there should be awareness campaigns targeting specific communities who are less likely to take up their screening invite.
Meanwhile celebrities or religious leaders should become cervical cancer ambassadors to help women "overcome cultural obstacles" to improving screening rates, they said.
The NHS spends £21 million a year treating cervical cancer patients. But if all women were regularly screened the budget would fall to £12.1 million, the report says.
And there would be benefits for the wider economy as well because many working women would not need to reduce their working hours as a result of a diagnosis, they said.
The report's author Jo Salter, a researcher at Demos, said: "With cervical cancer, the stakes are so high - both cost and health-wise - but in many cases it can be avoided through screening. So it is worrying that so many women are currently ignoring their screening invitations.
"We know that many obstacles stand in the way of cervical screening - nervousness, embarrassment, lack of time, lack of knowledge, overwhelmed services, and a feeling of 'it will never happen to me'. It is crucial that these obstacles are removed, making it as easy as possible for women to make cervical screening part of their regular routine, as a smart, precautionary measure."
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "The results of this report clearly highlight the urgent need to find ways to encourage more women to attend screening.
"By making a small investment in targeted prevention campaigns now we could not only save millions of pounds for the state but also prevent many more women from enduring the devastating long term implications of treatment as well as save lives altogether.
"We sincerely hope that cervical cancer prevention can be given greater priority at policy level. If the recommendations in this report can be taken forward, we may start to see a future where cervical cancer becomes a disease of the past."
All women in England, Wales and Northern Ireland aged 25 to 60 are offered cervical screening tests every three to five years. The ages vary slightly in Scotland but will be amended from next year to be in line with other parts of Britain.
A Department of Health Spokesperson said: " We would urge every woman invited for screening to make the important decision to take part, as cervical screening can spot changes that might go on to become cancer.
"On the spot smear tests are already available to women whose test is overdue at their GP practice or other health clinics. More than half a million women were screened in this way last year.
"We want to lead the world in cancer care and are investing over £750 million over four years, including £170 million to expand and improve our cancer screening programmes.
"We will consider the recommendations made in this report carefully."