THOUSANDS of women across south Cumbria failed to attend cervical screening tests last year, new healthcare statistics have shown.

According to figures from GP practices across the south of the county, thousands of women eligible for the free tests in Kendal and other South Lakes towns are missing the vital NHS checks.

Windermere Health Centre reported that just 66.3 per cent of eligible women between 25 and 64 attended smear test appointments in the year 2018/19, while only 70.6 per cent turned up for the life-saving checks at Wraysdale House Surgery in Coniston.

However, the mean attendance rate in south Cumbria was slightly above overall figures for England, averaging out at 74.7 per cent across surgeries included in the Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Nationally, the average attendance rate among eligible women was 72.6 per cent.

The tests are free on the NHS and eligible women registered with a local GP receive regular reminders for the checks, which women are advised to get every couple of years. Healthcare workers and campaigners believe lingering misconceptions around smear tests are largely behind the number of women currently failing to get them.

South Cumbria healthcare professionals have called for greater community awareness work through GP services, in light of the new figures. The calls have gained a particular relevance this week as it has emerged new forms of cervical screening tests, along with the development of a new HPV virus vaccine, have become available.

A number of social media campaigns for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week are aiming to raise awareness of and combat the remaining stigma surrounding smear tests using the hashtag #SmearForSmear.

A spokesperson from Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: "Although across Morecambe Bay our cervical screening achievement is higher than the national average, we recognise that there is more work to be done to increase uptake across the whole area in order to prevent the disease as much as we possibly can.

"For us at the CCG, this means two actions that we will undertake this year. Firstly, we will work closely with the GP surgeries that are currently below the CCG average to look at steps to improve uptake in each community. The other action that the CCG plans to take in the coming year is to support a campaign by the Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance which aims to encourage the uptake in first time attendees for cervical screening through its #25itstime initiative."