Women Are Using Their Annual Leave To Go To Pap smear Appointments - Women's Health

Women Are Using Their Annual Leave To Go To Pap smear Appointments

1 in 5 women and people with a cervix said they’d used annual leave when booking in their smear test.

by | Sep 29, 2021

Despite being a universal reality for women around the world, the stigma associated with periods and other issues related to our cervix remain somewhat taboo in an office setting. It’s why despite the triumphs that have come from the women’s movement and an ongoing fight for justice and equality, things like menstrual leave are slow to be adopted. As many of us have traded an office for the home when it comes to work, the benefits of being able to lie down and rest during painful periods or schedule an important check-up has been apparent. But what happens when we return to the office? As a new survey reveals, more women are using their annual leave to go to pap smear appointments, showing just how unfair the system really is. 

According to research conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 23 per cent of full-time workers found that home-working during the pandemic made attending medical appointments easier. But despite the progress that has arisen from Covid-19-enforced lockdown, many worry that this will dissipate as soon as we return to the office. 

In its survey of 1,020 women and people with a cervix, the charity found that “many workers report using annual leave, sick leave or even unpaid leave to attend appointments with 10 per cent saying they had used annual leave more than once to attend cervical screening.” As it now stands, 1 in 5 women and people with a cervix said they had used annual leave when booking in their smear test. 

The results come in light of Gynaecological Cancer Awareness month, with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust looking to not only raise awareness of cervical cancer, but also highlight “the roles employers can play in supporting staff to attend potentially life saving screening.”

Of the 1,020 women and people with a cervix who took part in the research, “62 per cent said that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off to look after their health.”

The research also found that the barrier to screening wasn’t just a lack of workplace support, but also due to considerations like time of the appointment and availability. 38 per cent of respondents found that they were unable to get a convenient appointment time during booking, with 1 in 10 being offered appointments they couldn’t make. As the charity explains, “Getting a test around working hours is a significant factor, especially for those who work shifts or who travel to work.”

The charity expressed that such findings are cause for concern, given that “1 in 3 say they feel less able to take time off to attend medical appointments because of the pandemic. Reasons cited for work being a challenge include inflexible bosses, too much work, shift patterns and it being difficult to ask to attend.”

According to Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Samantha Dixon, “There are many barriers to cervical screening, but work is a very practical one which we can and should try to tackle. Whilst every workplace is different, we’re calling on employers to find a way to offer their staff Time to Test, especially as we start returning to offices, we must try to avoid putting more barriers in place.

Dixon added, “It’s worrying to see so many having to take annual or sick leave to attend a routine medical appointment, which will lead to some delaying. Employers can help stop this and make cervical screening and cervical health visible and important in the workplace, so more women and people with a cervix feel confident and informed enough to attend.”

The importance can’t be overstated. Data from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust shows that cervical screening through smear tests prevents around 75 per cent of cancers from starting, while also identifying those who are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. As the charity urges, “cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer and saves thousands of lives every year.”

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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