We must reassure BAME women that it is safe to attend cervical cancer screenings

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THE COVID outbreak is exposing our society’s entrenched health inequalities. It is also exacerbating them.

Last week, the findings of an important, but very concerning, new study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed that four in ten minority ethnic women said they would feel unsafe attending a doctor’s surgery amidst the current pandemic.

As an implication of this, the report also showed that women from BAME backgrounds are twice as likely as white women to delay a cervical cancer screening on the basis of these concerns. 

It is vital that we amplify the message that GP surgeries are going to all the necessary lengths to protect their patients.

This is very worrying as cervical cancer is one of the top twenty common causes of cancer death in the UK. Despite this, it is also one of the most easily preventable with a screening.

Hit

Londoners of colour have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Public services must take seriously the very valid fears rooted in this terrible experience. In addition, the Government’s messaging has not reached BAME communities effectively. This has left communities feeling unable to trust those tasked with their wellbeing and meant that when we need help we are less likely to seek it.

This is why it is vital that we amplify the message that GP surgeries are going to all the necessary lengths to protect their patients and that avoiding a screening is the riskier option in the equation. 

However, it is important to remember that the low take up of testing was an urgent problem before the pandemic arrived.

Hackney

In my London Assembly constituency, covering Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, the latest NHS figures show that cervical cancer screening rates were still falling well below the national target as of last winter.

Londoners of colour have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

If we take London as a whole, screening rates have not once hit this target since records began in 2016.

Aside from the coronavirus, there are still many cultural, linguistic and physical barriers to be tackled here.

Leadership

We clearly need citywide leadership on this issue, and this is where NHS London can come in. Backed by increased Government funding and support, it could spark a public awareness campaign able to reach all of the capital’s diverse communities.

A positive first step would be a firm commitment by NHS London to adopt the comprehensive recommendations set out by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust aimed at boosting screening attendance.

In our crucial efforts to get to the bottom of why people from BAME backgrounds are placed at a disproportionate risk by Covid-19, we must not take our eye off the ball when it comes to stamping out other persistent health inequalities and preventing other tragedies.


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