England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Cervical smear backlog shows impending next wave of crisis

As everyone is now well aware, the NHS is in dire straits. Since 2015 the Conservative government has handed a whopping £15 billion of taxpayer money over to private contracts, fracturing our healthcare service down into the bare essentials and creating a culture of competing for profit, cutting corners, and skeleton staffing. Never has this been felt more than over the past year, since Covid has taken hold and all non-essential procedures through the NHS have had to be put on hold in order to focus on imminent life-saving emergencies. Private companies have proven themselves useless in favour of raking in yet more profit during this crisis.

The consequences of these changes are already being felt. Since Covid, there exists now a backlog of 1.5 million missed cervical smear appointments. Every year over 3,000 new diagnoses of cervical cancer are made. Worst still, up to 2,000 of these are people living in recognised deprived areas. By contrast, studies show that living in an affluent area halves your risk of getting the disease. Once again, the poor are left to suffer the consequences of the class system.

There is hope, however. Cancer Research states that, if caught early enough, 99.8% of all cases are preventable. The most accessible method of catching cancer early is currently through cervical smear tests, a service offered to people over 25 years of age. If found in the early stages, the fatality rate drops to an impressive 4%. If caught late, the mortality rate is almost 50%. Following the statistics, 75,000 of these missed appointments would result in a new diagnosis. If delayed too long, 50% of these cases will be fatal.

That’s over 37,000 preventable deaths from cervical cancer.

This is completely unacceptable. Already countless lives have been lost due to Johnson’s government failing to organise effectively through Covid, leaving us vulnerable and unable to protect our communities from the virus. And now, with the vaccine signifying the coming end of the pandemic, it seems another wave is inbound. Once again the NHS will be overwhelmed, this time by a backlog of patients whose treatments were delayed and cancelled over the last year, who will now be coming in far sicker because of it. Not only from cervical cancer but countless other uninvestigated conditions. Patients who will likely suffer horrific and preventable outcomes because of this failure to deliver care.

These statistics show that yes again women suffer disproportionately. Alongside forming a majority of frontline workers, suffering an increase in domestic violence, and bearing the majority of the burden of increased pressure in the home from childcare and homeschooling, this is just one way in which women’s health will be impacted by the Covid crisis. Women’s health issues are historically underfunded and under-researched, largely as a result of a deeply entrenched underplaying of pain and suffering related to women’s reproductive health. 

There needs to be change. The NHS must be properly funded to ensure the staff and resources can be allocated to protect the people. The government must be held accountable for ongoing back-door privatisation and syphoning of taxpayer money to profiteering companies. The NHS needs to be returned to the organisation it was originally created to be, with healthcare free and readily available to all who need it, and this needs to happen before more preventable lives are lost. Without a mass struggle to ensure this, the NHS will never recover from the cracks the Covid pandemic has widened, and the wellbeing of the many will suffer for it.


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