AN urgent debate has been called in the Senedd over a move to extend routine cervical screenings in Wales from every three years to five years.

Public Health Wales announced the change last week, revealing those aged between 25 to 49 who had not tested positive for human papillomavirus would now have to wait an extra two years between each test.

The body said this was because the screening test now used is more accurate than the previous one.

You can read more about the reasons behind extending the time between tests, which has been backed by cancer charities, here.

However, the news sparked a public outcry with many expressing fear and anger at the possibility it could cause an increase in deaths.

Particularly concerned are those who have not received the HPV vaccine, a national immunisation programme which began in 2008 for girls aged 12 to 13.

A number of petitions were launched calling for the decision to be reversed, with one on change.org gathering more than one million signatures.

The official petition on the Welsh parliament’s website had gained over 30,000 signatures when it was closed on Sunday.

At the petitions committee on Monday afternoon, chair  Jack Sargeant MS said he would call for an urgent debate to be had during Plenary time due to the strength of feeling expressed by the public.

And he said it was the fastest growing petition he had ever seen.

Buffy Williams MS, who represents the Rhondda, told the hearing: “I have two daughters and to think of the test happening ever five years instead of three is very worrying. I really think the petition needs to be brought forward for a debate because it is so important that every woman who signed that petition has a voice.

“When I get that letter through my door I open it and stick it on the fridge and every time I look at it I think ‘oh I need to book an appointment with my GP to get my smear’, but that can go on for weeks. Because life gets in the way and it’s not a pleasant experience, it isn’t. But it’s a life saving experience.

“But in my mind, it won’t be every five years, it’ll be every six years by time many people go.

“It’s also a time when you go for an overall wellbeing check, or it could be the only time someone suffering domestic abuse is seen by a health professional. It’s just so important and I feel very strongly about this, that it is done more regularly.”

A statement from Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said the change had been made following expert advice from the UK National Screening Committee, after it undertook a public consultation. And evidence shows it is safe to extend the screening interval due to the improved test.

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Baroness Morgan said: “Encouraging research has shown that the vaccine has led to about a 90% reduction in the number of people with pre-cancerous cells. The combination of immunisation and cervical screening offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer and we expect to see a significant decline in cervical cancers in the near future.”

Dr Sharon Hillier, director of PHW’s screening division, said: “This change is not a cost-saving exercise, this is to bring it in line with the current UK NSC recommendations.

“We don’t expect this to change the numbers of women that we pick up that are at increased risk of cervical cancer at all. We will be referring the same number of women to colposcopy services.”

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