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Public Health Wales apology over lack of clarity on smear test changes

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PUBLIC HEALTH WALES has apologised and admitted it hasn’t “done enough” to explain the reasons for increasing the length of time between cervical screening tests.

The change, which was announced on Tuesday, means people aged between 25 and 50 with a cervix will now wait five years until another test, rather than three, providing no human papillomavirus (HPV) cells are detected.

HPV is a very common virus that most people will come into contact with at some time during their lives. One or more high-risk types of HPV are present in over 99.8% of cervical cancers.

HPV testing was successfully introduced in Wales in 2018 and almost nine out of 10 results show no high-risk HPV.

There are about 160 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in Wales and it is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

But Public Health Wales has admitted it has failed to give clear information over the change, leading to concerns cancers could be missed.

In a tweet this weekend PHW said: “We are sorry. We haven’t done enough to explain the changes to cervical screening and have caused concern. We are working to make this clearer and more information will be available as soon as we can today and in the coming days.”

Cancer charities have sought to reassure women concerned by the change. Cancer Research UK has said people should be aware increasing the gap between screenings is “safe” and the new form of testing means people are invited for further based on their risk of developing cancer rather than their age.

An online petition, calling for the reintroduction of the three year gap between routine smear tests, has now attracted more than 680,000 signatures.

Alice Davies, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said people should be aware the decision to increase the time between screenings was made on scientific advice and due to a new way of testing samples which detects human papilloma virus (HPV) and means doctors are better able to identify those at risk of developing cervical cancer.Ms Davies said: “As the new test is more accurate at finding those at risk of cervical cancer, screening intervals can be safely extended from three to five years.

“If someone is HPV positive then their next screening interval will be shorter than five years. The new test allows women to be invited back for screening based on their risk of developing cervical cancer, rather than just their age.

“Overall this makes the programme more accurate, and means people don’t have extra rounds of screening that wouldn’t give them any benefit, while offering more screening to people at higher risk.”On Wednesday Public Health Wales said it accepted it has to do more to explain the reasons for the change.

Charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, described as the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, has sought to reassure people concerned about the changes.

It has said the change has been introduced following advice from the UK National Screening Committee which recommended the five year gap between tests due to the use of HPV tests which are more sensitive and effective.

It said this means the advice is most women aged 25 to 49 can, as those aged 50 to 64 are, can be tested every five years rather than three.

The charity says the improved testing will likely mean more lives saved by identifying those at greater risk of cancer earlier.

According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust women in Wales, and Scotland, are invited back based on the result of the screening.

If those show high-risk HPV and cell changes you will be invited to colposcopy.

If it identified high-risk HPV but no cell changes you will be invited for cervical screening in one year.

If there is no HPV you will be invited for cervical screening in five years.

Public Health Wales says HPV testing was introduced in Wales in 2018 and almost nine out of 10 results show no high-risk HPV.

Heather Lewis, consultant in public health for Cervical Screening Wales said: “The HPV test we now use in Wales is more effective at identifying people at higher risk of developing cell changes which can cause cervical cancer.

“The evidence shows that it is therefore safe to extend the time between cervical screening tests for people who do not have HPV identified.”

HPV is a very common virus that most people will come into contact with at some time during their lives. One or more high-risk types of HPV are present in over 99.8% of cervical cancers.

Increasing the time between smear tests will also reduce risks from screening.

Head of Programme for Cervical Screening Wales at Public Health Wales, Louise Dunk said: “Testing everyone who attends for cervical screening using a test for high risk HPV will identify those at risk and prevent more cancers than just examining the cells alone.

“It is a really positive development that this more effective test will mean that women and people with a cervix, who test negative for HPV, now only need to attend their testing every five years, rather than three.”

There are around 160 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in Wales and it is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

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Health

Ambulance delays as heart attack victims left waiting one hour 57 minutes

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FREEDOM of Information requests reveal the worst ambulance delays out of 22 local authorities in Wales.

Postcode lottery revealed with patients in some areas waiting over double the amount of time for life-threatening calls

The average wait time for amber calls, which includes heart attack and stroke victims was 1 hour 57 minutes. In Swansea, it was 2 hours 33 minutes.

Shocking figures have unveiled the local areas in Wales with the longest ambulance delays, revealing a stark “postcode lottery” for response times to life-threatening calls.

Figures were provided by local authority giving a more local breakdown of the usual Health Board data.

Potential heart attack and stroke victims in the worst-hit areas are now waiting an average of one hour and 57 minutes for paramedics to arrive.

The figures, uncovered by the Liberal Democrats through Freedom of Information requests, reveal how patients whose lives are in immediate danger are waiting twice as long in some rural areas than urban ones. In Anglesey, patients waited an average of 12 minutes and 22 seconds for category 1 calls compared to 6 minutes 31 seconds in Newport.

However, the figures for amber calls painted a much starker picture with an average arrival time of 1 hour 57 minutes in Wales, with the worst in Swansea, where the average wait was 2 hours 33 minutes.

Overall, 13 out of the 22 local authorities in Wales had an average wait of over 2 hours for amber calls.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for action on the social care crisis in order to free up hospital beds and stop ambulances waiting outside hospitals.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said:

“These figures are heart-breaking, but not necessarily shocking to anyone who has had to call on an ambulance in recent months.

“Far too many people are being left to wait too long in an emergency across every region of Wales. The length of amber calls, which includes stroke and heart attack victims in particularly concerning.

“None of this is the fault of our hardworking ambulance staff who are doing their utmost in extremely difficult conditions.

“We must see an end to the postcode lottery in emergency care, it shouldn’t matter where you live, you should be able to get timely medical attention when you need it most.

“Every day we hear more and more devastating stories of pensioners left stranded for hours, or families watching a loved one die before a paramedic could reach them.

“This cannot continue, the Welsh Labour Government must bring forward extra support to get ambulance services through winter as well as a long-term strategy to ensure people can get emergency care when they need it. That means addressing workforce shortages, fixing the social care crisis and ending the shortage of hospital beds, all of which are leaving patients in ambulances stuck outside A&E for hours.”

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Health

Bereavement books to support children at Bronglais Hospital

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THANKS to donations, Hywel Dda Health Charities has purchased a collection of children’s books on bereavement for the Meurig oncology ward at Bronglais Hospital.

The books help families to support children when there has been a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Ellen Masters, Meurig Ward Administrator, said: “By having these books on the ward we are able to guide and support children and young people dealing with bad news and bereavement.

“Using stories and activities can be a really good way to discuss issues with a child who has been bereaved, helping them to explore feelings and emotions around loss.

“Parents also appreciate having something they can read to children which deals sensitively with the issues.”

Pictured with some of the books is Senior Ward Sister Alaw Ciornei.

Nicola Llewelyn, Head of Hywel Dda Health Charities, the official charity of Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “The support of our local communities enables us to provide services over and above what the NHS can provide in the three counties of Hywel Dda and we are extremely grateful for every donation we receive.”

For more details about the charity and how you can help support local NHS patients and staff, go to www.hywelddahealthcharities.org.uk

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Health

NHS Dental Treatment in Wales Still 55% Lower Than Pre-Pandemic Levels

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RESPONDING to figures released this week showing that the number of courses of NHS dental treatment are still 55.1% lower than the year prior to the pandemic, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have reiterated their calls for the use of dental hygienists and dental nurses to be increased to help clear backlogs.

Overall, there was a decrease of 35.5% (539,959 patients) in the total number of patients treated, and the percentage of the total population treated decreased by 17.0 percentage points. This is the largest decrease for both adults and children since the series began in the 24-month period ending March 2006.

The figures also show a worrying decline in the number of children treated decreased with a reduction of 33.6% (125,246 patients).

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS told The Ceredigion Herald: “The figures we see today are very concerning. An inability to access an NHS dentist continues to be one of the main concerns I hear from my constituents.

“Just over the course of this summer, the largest town in Powys lost two out of four of its dental practices and the picture is similar across much of Wales.

“Everyone understands the challenges faced by dentistry following the pandemic. However, there are actions the Welsh Government can take both in the here and now and in the longer term to help clear backlogs and get NHS dentistry back on track.

“When I’ve spoken to industry experts over the summer they have all said the same thing, increasing the number of dental nurses and dental hygienists, as well as broadening the work they are allowed to do will help clear backlogs.

“I will continue to press Labour to make these changes as soon as possible.”

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