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Published Thursday 11 Apr 2024

There’s a new HPV self-test in town and it’s a game changer.

Recently we caught up with Regional Screening Service – Breast and Cervical Equity team members Tracey Baker and Janine Kumar to shed light on the critical work their team is doing to promote cervical and breast screenings, with a focus on equity and inclusivity.

In the cervical screening space, the introduction of the new HPV self-test has changed perceptions around cervical screening, and Tracey and Janine were both positive it’s a “game-changer”. Operating in the Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley and Wairarapa regions, the Equity team aims to reach out to priority groups, including under-screened and never screened populations, providing vital information and offering free screening services.

The Regional Screening Service – Breast and Cervical Equity team, have recently reintroduced monthly cervical screening Saturday clinics, alternating between the Hutt Hospital, Wellington Regional Hospital, and Kenepuru Hospital. Clients attending the cervical screening Saturday clinics are also offered breast screening (and vice versa) if they are due as the cervical screening Saturday clinics are planned alongside breast screening Saturday clinics. This offers a one stop shop for clients to get both their breast and cervical screening done.

“The whole idea is just having the opportunity. We've got breast and cervical screening clinics running and if there are people that are due for both, especially busy people that find it difficult to come to multiple appointments, they can come to this one clinic” explained Janine.

The Regional Screening Service Equity team understand that people face barriers to screening, one of which is barriers to access such as time off work, childcare, and cost. These Saturday clinics seeks to reduce some of these barriers and facilitate greater access to screening services. Another key barrier specific to cervical screening is people having previous bad experiences with the traditional cervical screening test (known as a cervical smear) which has created hesitancy to get screened.

There’s a new test in town though, with the HPV self-test becoming the new method for cervical screening in New Zealand from September 2023. HPV testing is a better first screening test. It looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. Tracey described the test as being ‘a bit like a RAT test’, in that it’s quick, easy and a lot less intrusive.

The feedback for the new HPV self-test so far has been very positive, but there’s still a lot of work to do around educating communities that the new test has arrived, and letting people know how they can get any questions they might have answered.

“I think the people's perception of cervical screening is starting to change… a lot of them have had very bad experiences of cervical screening in the past and that's really deterred them from getting it done again. And so when they see it’s a self-test and that they can do themselves and it’s just a wee little swab they think, let's give it a go” confirmed Janine.

The Regional Screening Service Equity team exists to act as a bridge between our screening services and the community. “We're the Equity team here at Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley and Wairarapa. It's about getting equitable outcomes for everyone across both [screening] programs” added Tracey.

The importance of engaging with the communities in these areas is key to their work. Through attending events, health promotions, and collaborating with Primary Health Organizations (PHOs) and NGOs, the team actively seek to bridge the gap between the community and screening services.

Janine and Tracey both stressed the significance of the face-to-face and phone interactions in building relationships, fostering trust, and encouraging hesitant individuals to consider screenings.

There has still been some hesitancy surrounding the new test which the team have dealt with through providing education, emphasizing choice, and offering clinician-assisted self-tests for those who prefer it. The team ensures clients attending their clinics are well informed, comfortable, and confident about the screening process.

The National Cervical Screening Programme has a goal to achieve an 80% cervical screening coverage and the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme has a goal to achieve 70% breast screening coverage. The equity team at Regional screening service is actively working towards these goals by maintaining a strong presence in the community and ensuring that individuals are well-informed about the available screenings and options. Ongoing collaboration with PHOs, NGOs, and community events remains crucial to achieving their goals.

For those hesitant about screenings, the team encourages people to have a conversation. No question is too trivial, and individuals should feel free to seek information from healthcare professionals or engage directly with the Regional Screening Service. Ultimately, they stress that the decision to undergo screenings is a personal choice, and being well-informed empowers individuals to make the best decisions for their health.

When asked for some parting advice, Tracey stated “There’s plenty of resources out there. Talk to a healthcare professional. Get informed”.

Are you interested in hearing more or booking in for the next clinic?

Give the team a call on 0800 729729.

The next free clinic is : Saturday 20th April 8-1pm, Kenepuru Outpatients, text Tracey 021 817772 Bookings preferred, Walk-ins welcome!