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Smear test results wait times cut

PUBLISHED: 08:55 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:25 05 July 2010

WOMEN who have tests for early signs of cervical cancer will have less of an anxious wait to endure with result times slashed by more than two weeks.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is leading the way in reducing waiting times for smear tests.

WOMEN who have tests for early signs of cervical cancer will have less of an anxious wait to endure with result times slashed by more than two weeks.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is leading the way in reducing waiting times for smear tests. It has cut the average wait from test to results to just 12.5 days from 35 days last July. And work is continuing to reduce the time even further.

It means less anxiety for women across Norfolk and Waveney, all of whom have their cervical samples sent to the N&N for testing.

The cervical screening programme is designed to test early changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer later on. Although popularly known as a smear test, the smear itself has been replaced by a different procedure called liquid-based cytology. Women are invited for a test every three years between the ages of 25 and 49, and every five years between 50 and 65.

Former Big Brother star Jade Goody, 27, is suffering from advanced cervical cancer, which has spread to other organs. Take-up of smear tests has risen since the publicity.

In Norfolk, the N&N has had help from the national NHS Improvement team and has been using more efficient management techniques to see how it can process smear tests more efficiently.

Sylvia Pullinger, deputy manager of cytopathology at the N&N, said: “I think it will reduce the worrying part of it. When you have got to have any sort of test it is the waiting time that gets to you - will it be alright, will it not be alright? It will cut down the worry and will reassure them if they have got an abnormality, if there is something wrong, they will know about it within two weeks rather than much longer.”

Robert Music, from the cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust, said: “That has to be good news. It is a nervous time and if you can reduce that it is a good thing. It is so important that people take up screening - it is a procedure that could save their life.”

Some of the measures taken have been as simple as a doorbell outside the department which delivery men can ring if they need a porter to help, freeing up the office staff.

Every step of the testing process has been looked at. The surgeries where the samples are taken have been urged to make sure that the details are correct. Results are sent automatically overnight from the lab to the recall centre and letters are produced by 10am the next morning. And the recall centre now sends the all-clear letters business class rather than second class, saving a day. The abnormal letters were already sent first class.

Unnecessary administration has also been removed, such as removing duplication of records. Before, log books were filled in by hand as well as electronic records. Disposing of the logbooks means each member of lab staff can test five extra slides a day. A display board in the corridor uses graphics and charts to show the improvements that are being made.

The next step is an electronic system to request tests, as already happens with blood tests.

In the past women across the country have been told to expect their test results within six weeks. Waiting times at the N&N had been slower than some areas, but are now among the best. The government says that by December next year, 95pc of women should get results within two weeks. Currently 85pc of women at the N&N get theirs within two weeks, and the N&N is on track to meet the target well before then.

Between 41pc and 73pc of cervical cancer is preventable through screening, and in the long term it is believed the death rate can be reduced by 95pc.

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