ONE nurse is tackling the stigma around cervical screenings by telling the story from the perspective of the smear test takers.

This week, the NHS is hosting Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Week, aiming to encourage women to accept their screening invitation and raise awareness of how the test can can save lives. To contribute to the campaign, nurses on the ground are sharing their experiences from the other side of the screening process.

Practice nurse Rachel Carr, 48, of Little Lever, took to Facebook to spread the word on the importance of cervical screenings.

In the social media post, she talked candidly about screenings from a nurse’s point of view with the hope of putting fearful patients at ease by showing just how routine the screenings are.

Ms Carr said in the post: “I reckon I’ve done 100 smears in the last 12 months (I work part-time!) and yes it really is true, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.”

The nurse also highlighted the test could be the difference between life and death.

She added: “So ladies, please go and get it done if it’s overdue, tell the nurse if you’re scared, for whatever reason, I promise she’ll be kind, it might just save your life.

The Facebook post, which also featured a picture of a speculum and brush, was shared by more than 70,000 people and received almost 9,000 comments from women posting their personal experiences of the screening process.

The post even changed some women’s mind and successfully got them to book their test.

Ms Carr is a practice nurse at Dr Karim and Dr James-Authe’s surgery in Halliwell Road. She explained why she decided to write her thoughts on Facebook.

Ms Carr said: “There is not a lot of information out there from a nurses point of view. There is a missing link between the media and real nurses.

“It really is a case of, we’ve seen one, we’ve seen them all. I wanted the post to be fun but serious at the same time and put it across from a smear taker’s perspective.

“I didn’t expect the post to be shared as widely as it has done and provoke the reactions and comments it did.

“The blokes have got involved too, they have been tagging their girlfriends and wives. That is how it should be. It’s keeping somebody’s sister and somebody’s mum safe.

“My two boys, who are 11 and 15, know all about it.”

Ms Carr revealed that there were a few commenters who responded negatively to the picture of the speculum.

She said: “There were a couple of people who said, what a terrible picture, but I could have used a picture of a cancerous cervix. I want to get people talking.

“You do not always get symptoms for cervical abnormalities. By the time some people get symptoms, it’s already quite advanced. Early detection is so important, that is one of the best things about screenings.

“If it changes one person’s mind, it is worth it.”

Around 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and around 690 women die from the disease, according to the NHS.

Uptake of the test hit a twenty year-low this year, but it is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83 per cent of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

Ms Carr says she is determined to make cervical screenings a better experience for nervous patients.

She said: “I have rewritten our smear test letter at the surgery. You get two letters from the NHS and then, if you have not responded, one from your surgery.

“The letter was like a naughty schoolgirl’s telling off. If I was scared of getting my smear test, I would definitely not want to have it after receiving that letter, it was awful. We inherited that letter and I wanted to change it and personalise it more.

“By the time women have got to the third letter, they have ignored two invitations. There is a reason for them not going.”

Ms Carr not only changed the wording, she also decided to make the letter more friendly by getting it printed on pink paper.

Ms Carr said: “I introduce myself in the letter and I sign it personally, just to make it that bit more of an invitation really.

“I always ask if they have problems or there is something that worries them. It is about giving people the opportunity to say what scares them and why they have not been before.”

There are plenty of adaptations that can be made for patients who need extra help or reassurance, says Ms Carr.

She said: “I always make sure people have got somewhere to put their clothes. For people who have been victims of sexual assault, we’ll give them a longer appointment if they need it. If it takes an hour, it takes an hour.

“For disabled women, I would offer a screening as a home visit. I would ask someone who is familiar with the patient to be there but all I would have to do is remember to bring a torch. I would not even question it, I would do it anytime.

“We are there no matter what. There is a duty of care to do your utmost. Smear tests are so simple.”

Dr Stephen Liversedge, Clinical Director of Primary Care and Health Improvement at NHS Bolton CCG said: “Cervical cancer can be prevented by attending your cervical screening appointment. As a CCG we strongly encourage women to accept their invitation for screening when they receive it. Women who are concerned about signs and symptoms of cervical cancer should seek advice from their GP or Nurse.

“I think Rachel has done a brilliant job in raising awareness of cervical screening. Due to the high level of social media activity I hope this encourages more women to attend their smear test when invited.”

If you are over 25 and have not had a cervical screening, make an appointment with your GP today.