Lothian Health Services Archive

Cervical Smear Campaign promotional leaflet

With the exception of stopping people smoking, cervical cancer cytology screening offers the only major public health measure for significantly reducing the burden of cancer today.

  • Imperial Cancer Research Foundation Co-ordinating Committee, 1983.

During the early 1980s, a string of potentially avoidable deaths from cervical cancer received significant media attention. As a result, existing cervical screening services were suddenly in extremely high demand, which in turn led to laboratory services having a backlog of 10,000 unread slides. In order to catch up, the screening programme was frozen. This incited Edinburgh District Local Health Council and Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee to create a new campaign in order to safeguard women’s health and save lives. The Cervical Smear Campaign (1985-1991) had two main demands: that Lothian Health Board lift all restrictions on the cervical screening service and that they create a fully comprehensive service in Lothian and Scotland.

The Campaign also sought to increase awareness and education surrounding women’s health. Using a grass-roots approach, promotional material, like this pamphlet, was created which offered non-intimidating and straightforward information regarding cervical smear tests. Crucially, information leaflets were translated into other languages, to ensure that the aims of the Campaign reached women whose first language was not English.

Given the societal context, the campaign targeted women specifically, but we now understand that cervical cancer doesn’t just affect women – trans men and non-binary people with a cervix can also contract the disease.

The Campaign proved hugely successful with the petition amassing almost 18,000 signatures. Finally, in May 1988, Lothian Health Board introduced three-yearly screening for individuals aged 20 and over, a computerised recall system, and automatic notification of all test results to the patient themselves in addition to their doctors.

Historically, the medical establishment has excluded women from discourses surrounding their own health, treatment and care. The Cervical Smear Campaign was spearheaded by women who recognised the importance of creating systems of knowledge to allay anxiety and embarrassment surrounding gynaecological exams and, most importantly, to normalise them. Through their tenacious lobbying, they sought to restore agency to women’s health concerns without which we may not have ready access to potentially lifesaving preventative measures such as cervical smear tests today. LHSA has nominated this pamphlet as it embodies the fightback, and ultimate victory, by community action to secure attention to the healthcare needs of people with a cervix. It shows that archives can hold relatively recent material that speaks to both a shared past and ongoing shared issues now.