Smear test questions and responsibility: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

You asked the following questions:

I. With regards to the smear test which detects abnormal cells in the cervix, was the frequency changed in 2020 to elongate the smear test window to 5 years for all ages of women?

II. If this is the case then what medical research evidence was the decision based on and who decided (please provide job title, name, meeting date, meeting time, meeting venue, names of those present)?

III. Does it cover 35 year old females and above or are there alternate groupings by age in relation to frequency of testing?

IV. Is NHS Scotland responsible for ensuring that any smear test taken must be examined thoroughly by trained, medical laboratory technicians or research scientists?

V. Is NHS Scotland responsible for ensuring that any smear test examined then has a report sent back to the General Practitioner or screening centre or to the person tested?


I. Following the implementation of hr-HPV Primary Screening in March 2020 the screening interval for all participants where human papillomavirus’ (HPV) is not found in the sample will be five years regardless of age. This is because evidence tells us that the risk of developing cervical cancer is very low during this time.

II. In January 2016, the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) recommended the introduction of HPV testing as the primary screening test in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, as an alternative to cytology, the current primary test. Evidence shows that women who test negative for HPV have a very low risk of developing cervical cancer within 5 years.

Further information on the UK NSC recommendation can be found on the following link :

III. The 5 year screening interval is for all participants regardless of age.

IV. NHS Boards (Lanarkshire and Greater Glasgow and Clyde) who host the two nationally commissioned Cervical Screening Laboratories must demonstrate safe and sustainable staffing levels.

V. NHS National Services Scotland is responsible for the management of the Scottish Cervical Screening programme. The Cervical Screening Programme, through its national IT system ensures all results are made available electronically to the sample taker and / or General Practitioner. The same IT system ensures result letters are mailed to participants.

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Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

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