Over the past few months I have been working closely with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in an attempt to highlight the barriers disabled women face accessing cervical cancer screening. The following post is my response to a recent report that was published about this issue.
New research released by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has revealed the extent to which women who have physical disabilities are discriminated against when attempting to undergo cervical screenings.
The report findings show that 63% of women with a physical disability are unable to access cervical cancer screening.
This shocking statistic may come as a surprise to many, but for disabled women like myself who have battled years to gain access to this potentially life-saving test, it is an all too common problem. This is our reality.
I personally had to fight for five years to gain access to cervical screening. I live with a severe form of Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) which greatly restricts my mobility and my ability to carry out even the most basic tasks. I am unable to sit or stand for more than two minutes at a time without severe pain, dizziness and tremors. This means I am confined to my bed for the majority of the time.
When I attend hospital appointments I travel on a stretcher in an ambulance. I simply cannot visit my GP surgery. Should this mean that I can’t have a test which could prevent me from getting cervical cancer?
I wrongly assumed that because I get home appointments for blood tests, injections and dental care, it would be just as easy to organise a home visit for cervical screening. I spoke to my GP about having a test in my home but was told that it was not possible, and no other arrangements were suggested. Many reasons were given why a home test was not possible, including poor lighting, bed height and the softness of my bed. But at no time were any solutions to these simple problems discussed.
Frustrated by this situation, I campaigned, made phone calls and wrote letters for years, and finally I was allowed a test at my home. Thankfully, my results came back clear.
The home test actually turned out to be a fairly easy process. The nurse was lovely. She wore a head torch and we adjusted the height of my bed, as I have a hospital bed at home. These were simple adjustments that could have been made years before, so why did I have to fight for so long?
Concerned that other patients would have to go through the same long battle, I asked the nurse if a home test was an option to other women who are unable to leave their house. Sadly, the answer was “no”. I was told I am an exceptional case due to the length of time since my last screening (8 years), and the long term nature of my ill-health.
Unfortunately my case is not exceptional, in fact it is quite common. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says the inequalities faced by women with disabilities were “not acceptable”.
“Cervical screening saves lives and every eligible woman who would like to take part in the screening programme should be able to,” it said.
The report also stated that 88% of those who participated said it is harder for women with physical disabilities to attend or access cervical screening. And 49% said that they have chosen not to attend cervical screening in the past for reasons such as previous bad experiences related to their disability or worries about how people might react.
Of the women assessed in the report, 23% said that they would need a hoist in order to be helped onto a GP’s examination bed. But shockingly, only one percent of those questioned said that their GP provides them with the essential equipment.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said; “Our new research has found that women with physical disabilities are struggling to access potentially-life saving cervical screening. A lack of equipment, clear policies and, in parts of the country, substandard care is putting this group at increased risk of cervical cancer.”
There are potentially thousands of disabled women struggling and failing to get cervical cancer screening – this is not fair. I’ve even been told that women with physical disabilities are ‘less at risk’, or because cervical cancer is rare, not to worry about not having a test. This is really hurtful to hear. It’s like our needs are not taken as seriously as those of an able-bodied person. It’s so important that we make this test accessible to everyone who needs it.
This is such an important issue, and my hope is that this report will go some way in addressing the problems I, and many other disabled women, have experienced.
To read the report, hear our stories and find out how you can help, please click here
If you would like to read more about my experiences trying to access cervical screenings please read this post.
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