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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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Community

Go Wild for Beat the Street Llanelli

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PARTICIPANTS in the Beat the Street Llanelli are invited to Go Wild this week!

The themed week starts on Wednesday, October 19, with the aim of encouraging local residents to explore their local parks, waterways and green spaces. Beat the Street players are invited to score double points this weekend on Beat Boxes in parks, green spaces and along the seafront.

Already, more than 6,200 people have signed up to the real-life interactive physical activity game and have together walked, cycled and rolled nearly 30,000 active travel miles. The community’s efforts mean that organisers of the game have donated £100 to three local charities; Tyisha Foodbank, Calon and Mind. A further £100 will be donated to all three when the total mileage reaches 45,000 miles!

There are also total and average points leaderboards for school, community, workplace teams and individuals with prizes for sports or book vouchers for the teams that top the tables at the end of the six-week competition.

Currently, Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes leads the total points leaderboard, with Llangennech in second place and Stebonheath CP School in third. Ysgol Gymraeg Brynsierfel is in fourth place on the total points leaderboard and eight on the average points leaderboard.

Zoe Jermin-Jones, Assistant Headteacher at Ysgol Gymraeg Brynsierfel, said: “We think that this fun, innovative idea is fantastic! Our learners at Ysgol Gymraeg Brynsierfel have told us that the idea of competing in a town-wide game is really exciting! They are involving parents, family members and friends,  and are telling us everything about how people are getting out and about, walking, cycling and scooting. Our teachers can even be seen taking walks around Llwynhendy during their lunch breaks. We have received nothing but positive feedback from all involved. 

Beat the Street is a truly wonderful resource that improves both physical and mental wellbeing. We’re looking forward to future Beat the Street games already!”

Beat the Street Llanelli: commissioned by Carmarthenshire County Council, supported by Sport Wales, provided by Intelligent Health.

Paolo Piana, Chair, Llanelli Community Partnership, said: “We’re delighted to support the Beat the Street programme and it’s great to see people out exercising and exploring new areas. It’s amazing how we tend to stick to the same tried and tested routes and how the game has opened up the idea of exploring the town on foot, which reveals new areas and parks you might not have known about, even if you’ve lived here for years.

“Beat the Street is a positive and community-focused way of encouraging people to get more active, by walking, cycling, rolling and wheeling around this beautiful area.”

Anyone of any age is invited to take part in the free game and you can still get involved for the remaining weeks. Just pick up a card from one of the distribution points listed at www.beatthestreet.me/llanelli, register your card, join a team and get playing! For more information, news and FAQs, follow @BTSLlanelli on social media.

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Health

Hywel Dda Health Board confirms Bank holiday arrangements

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FOLLOWING confirmation that Monday, 19 September, will be a Bank Holiday to mark the Queen’s State Funeral, the Health Board is contacting all patients to confirm or re-arrange their appointments, depending on service availability. Whilst all emergency services will be operating as normal, we need to adjust some elements of our planned care services and prioritise patients with urgent care needs wherever possible.

Our Chemotherapy Units will be operating as normal on Monday and some surgery for urgent cases will take place at our hospitals.

Where appointments need to be re-scheduled, patients are being contacted over the coming days by the relevant team to re-arrange their appointment as quickly as possible. In some cases, this may mean bringing appointments forward to this week. Some face-to-face outpatient appointments will still go ahead, and some may be held as an online/virtual appointment on Monday.

If you have an appointment on Monday, and have not been contacted by 1pm on Friday, please contact the health board’s communication hub on 0300 3038322 or email ask.hdd@wales.nhs.uk for further information and guidance. Staff at the communication hub are available to answer calls between 10am-4pm on Saturday, and 10am-3pm on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. We are contacting all patients by telephone or text message, please check your telephone for any messages.

As GP surgeries and most Community Pharmacies and Dental services will be closed on Monday, a Bank Holiday out of hours service will be provided. Individuals requiring repeat prescriptions are encouraged to arrange them in advance.

All urgent and emergency care services will continue as normal. If you are unwell and unsure what to do, you can visit the online symptom checker or call NHS 111. The Minor Injury Units at acute hospital sites will be open as usual. Opening hours for community walk-in services can be found on the health board’s website. Please attend an Emergency Department, or call 999, if you have a life-threatening illness or serious injury, such as: 

Severe breathing difficulties 

  • Severe pain or bleeding 
  • Chest pain or a suspected stroke 
  • Serious trauma injuries (e.g. from a car crash)

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your support and patience.

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Health

Autumn Covid-19 booster roll-out begins today in Wales

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THE ROLL-out of the autumn Covid-19 booster has started today (September 1) in Wales with care home residents and staff across Wales the first to receive the vaccine.

Everyone who is eligible for the autumn booster will be invited for a vaccination by their health boards. Invitations will be issued in order of vulnerability, with everyone eligible being offered a booster vaccine by December.

The vaccine will help support the immunity of all those who are at higher risk from COVID-19, improving their protection against severe illness, while also helping to support the NHS during winter 2022-23.

This autumn, in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine booster will be offered to:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • All adults aged 50 years and over
  • People aged five to 49 years who are in a clinical risk group
  • People aged five to 49 years who are household contacts of people who are  immunosuppression
  • People aged 16 to49 who are carers.

In line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), eligible adults aged 18 and over will initially be offered the Moderna vaccine which protects from both the original strain of coronavirus and the Omicron variant. Those eligible aged under 18 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine. Both vaccines will be offered at least three months after a previous dose.

The vaccines will be administered in a variety of settings including GP surgeries and vaccination centres.

The winter respiratory vaccination strategy will ensure all those eligible for the autumn booster are also protected from seasonal flu – people are being encouraged to take up the flu vaccine when offered. All those eligible for a flu vaccine will be offered it before the end of the year.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Our winter respiratory vaccination programme will help protect the most vulnerable in our communities from flu and coronavirus this winter.  The COVID-19 booster campaign will start with those in care homes, alongside those working within the NHS and the social care sector.

“Vaccines have had an enormous impact on the course of the pandemic – they have saved countless lives and given us the freedom and confidence to restart our lives.

“I want to thank everyone working in the NHS and other organisations who will once again lead efforts to protect the most vulnerable through vaccination.

“This year, we will  once again offer an expanded flu programme, with 1.5 million people being eligible for a free vaccine.

I would encourage anyone who is eligible to take up their invitation to help themselves.

“All eligible adults will be invited for their autumn COVID-19 booster via letter and text message from their health board by December and I would ask people not to contact their GPs about their invite so they can continue to focus on looking after people’s health.”

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