Information pertaining to cervical screening: FOI release

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

Information requested

1. An annual breakdown of cervical screening invites sent vs annual breakdown of cervical screening appointments attended.
2. Annual breakdowns of the % of those cervical screening appointments attended where the results showed change or abnormalities from the last screening.
3. Annual breakdowns of the % of those change/abnormality cases which required further intervention from colposcopy, with an annual average of wait times for a referral.
4. Annual breakdowns of the % of cervical screening appointments attended where the results showed cervical cancer was present at the time of the screening (no prior cervical cancer) as well as an average of time between last screening and most recent.
5. Annual breakdown of cervical cancer deaths categorised by age brackets.
6. A copy of the original scientific evidence and advice that the health secretary’s decision to reduce the frequency of cervical screenings to 5 years from 3 was based on and the source in which it came from (company/qualification level etc).


This is a formal notice under 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government do not hold the above information you have requested in items 1-5.

To obtain access to these, I would suggest sending a request to NHS National Services Scotland. Further information on how to do this can be found on the following website:

The change in screening intervals within the Scottish cervical screening programme was based on new evidence for a more effective primary screening test that screens for high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (hr-HPV). This change was made in line with advice from the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC), an independent expert advisory group which informs decisions taken across the UK on screening programmes, including those taken by Scottish Ministers.

In January 2016, the UK NSC made a recommendation to introduce hr-HPV testing as the primary screening test within the cervical screening programme as an alternative to cytology. The hr-HPV test is a more sensitive and effective test for identifying those who are at risk of cervical cancer. This means that women and individuals with a cervix who don’t have HPV will be invited for a cervical screening test every five years instead of three. This is because evidence tells us that the risk of developing cervical cancer is very low during this time.

Following the recommendation from the NSC, the Scottish cervical screening programme began work to replace cervical cytology with hr-HPV testing and this was achieved on 16 March 2020. All research, evidence and recommendations made by the UK NSC are in the public domain and under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. 

Information on where to access these are included below.

The UK NSCs recommendation to increase screening intervals from three to five years can be found here:

Information and research paper on using hrHPV as the primary screening test can be found here:

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Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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