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NHS pledges to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040

The NHS will improve its HPV vaccination programme and is urging more women to book screening appointments in light of findings that a third are not contacting their GP when instructed to.

Last week, head of NHS England Amanda Pritchard announced that thanks to improved screening rates and HPV vaccination uptake, there’s hope for cervical cancer to be practically non-existent in the UK by 2040.

It’s thought to be the first time that the health service has held out the possibility of banishing any form of the disease within a set time period, though Pritchard has made clear that the outlined goal depends on far more women attending appointments than are currently doing so.

Under normal circumstances, 1.5 million appointments are skipped annually due to fear, body consciousness, embarrassment, previous negative experiences, or ‘packed schedules.’

‘It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition today,’ she said.

‘To eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme and our highly effective cervical screenings, it could become a reality in the next two decades.’

‘As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited – to achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer. So please don’t delay – it could save your life.’

Currently there are 9.5 cervical cancer cases per 100,000 women in England – more than double the target rate and a figure that has remained steady for the past decade.

But since the HPV vaccine started being given to girls in 2008 there has been an 87 per cent reduction in cervical cancers in this group, research has shown, suggesting the rate of incidence will start dropping in the coming years.

According to WHO, for cervical cancer, ‘elimination’ means lowering the rate of the disease to 4 cases for every 100,000.

To achieve this, Pritchard is calling for the NHS to learn from what worked during the pandemic by offering catch-up vaccinations in community settings, such as libraries, halls, and sports venues, as well as targeting outreach to raise awareness of the benefits of going to get the jab.

To make it easier and less time-consuming to get immunised, the NHS also recently updated its HPV vaccination to a single dose instead of two, which is now being offered to those aged 12 to 13 in schools.

Anyone eligible has until their 25th birthday to receive it via their GP practice, and a new drive will allow parents to see their children’s vaccination status and book appointments on the health service’s app.

‘We’re really pleased,’ said a spokesperson for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, one of many charities praising the pledge.

‘The HPV vaccination programme is incredibly successful and has already led to an 87 per cent decrease in cervical cancer incidence in women in their 20s.’