A survey to be published tomorrow by the managers' union, MSF, says the service is facing severe staffing problems and blames poor pay and adverse publicity.
"In cytological screening, the crisis is here," says Roger Kline of MSF. "What we are seeing is the effect of years of neglect. It is vital the voices of cytology staff are heard, particularly when they talk about low morale and stress within the service."
The cervical screening programme has suffered a number of highly publicised scandals over the last decade including those at hospitals in Canterbury, Liverpool and Norfolk. Even the recent cancer scare at St George's Hospital in south London reflected badly on cytology although it had nothing to do with screeners.
"The profession is demoralised," said Russell Smith, a past President of the Association of Cytologists and a clinical scientist at Brighton General Hospital.
"I have screeners that say they would rather tell people they are prostitutes than cervical screeners, as acquaintances say, 'Aren't you the lot that kill women?'. It is one of the most successful screening programmes in the world. In the last decade we have dropped the death rate by 40 per cent and it continues to decrease by seven per cent per year."
The MSF says 76 per cent of the heads of pathology departments who took part in the survey had experienced difficulties in recruitment over the last 12 months.
Deputy co-ordinator of the NHS national screening programme, Richard Winder, said the survey exaggerated problems. "We wouldn't accept that the service is in crisis . . . there are some recruitment and retaining difficulties which vary from region to region. We have established a working group taking an overview of the workforce as a totality."Reuse content