An absence of equipment like hoists and height-adjustable beds in GP surgeries is preventing disabled women from accessing potentially-life saving cervical screening.
That’s according to new research which claims that two thirds of women have been unable to attend a smear test as a result of their disability with many facing resistance and stigma along the way.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned that a lack of equipment, clear policies and, in parts of the country, substandard care is putting disabled women at an increased risk of cervical cancer.
The charity surveyed 335 women living with a physical disability and uncovered significant inequalities and wide variation in the opportunities available to women. Many women reported not having had a test for many years, some since they became disabled.
88% said they feel it is harder for women with a disability to attend cervical screening, while half have purposely chosen not to attend due to a previous bad experience related to their disability or worry about how people might react.
In the UK, there are around 18 million people with a disability or long term health condition. Over half of women with a disability report mobility impairment.
In its new report Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that essential equipment, which some women need to access a test at their GP, such as hoists or height-adjustable beds are not readily available.
Just 1% of respondents said that their GP surgery provides a hoist, yet 23% say they need one to get onto the examination bed.
Inconsistency in provision of home visits or referrals to alternative, accessible venues was also found. 22% said that they are unable to leave the house but their GP surgery does not offer home visits with only 3% confident that their GP surgery provides a home visit.
A level of misunderstanding and stigma around disability was discovered as one in five women said it has been assumed that they are not sexually active because of their disability.
Women reported being discouraged from screening, being told it was not possible to access and some even said they have been encouraged to sign waivers saying they did not want screening.
The charity is calling for GP practices to review their policies and practice, along with training and inspections to address adjustments for women with a wide range of physical disabilities.
It is also calling for research looking at the most effective way of offering cervical screening to women with a physical disability, including feasibility of HPV self-sampling.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “I am shocked by the inequality that exists in accessing cervical screening across the UK.
“It is not acceptable that women with a physical disability are often faced with additional hurdles or even being denied access to this potentially lifesaving test. It is worrying to see the level of stigma that exists regarding sex and disability and this must change.”