Research Article

Six years' audit of laboratory workload and rates of referral for colposcopy in a cervical screening programme in three districts.

BMJ 1990; 301 doi: (Published 20 October 1990) Cite this as: BMJ 1990;301:907
  1. A E Raffle,
  2. B Alden,
  3. E F Mackenzie
  1. Bristol and Weston District Health Authority.


    OBJECTIVE--To determine laboratory workload and rates of referral for colposcopy in a three district cervical screening programme during 1983-9 to assess the feasibility of accommodating call up of all women at risk, recall at three year intervals (now five year intervals), and investigation of women with all degrees of abnormality. DESIGN--Analysis of computerised screening histories dating back to 1977 of women screened in the Avon cervical screening programme. SETTING--Three district health authorities covering the population of Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, comprising 800,000 people, of whom 250,000 were female residents aged 20 to 64. SUBJECTS--196,977 Women aged 20 to 64 screened in cervical screening programme since 1983. RESULTS--Laboratory workload devoted to follow up of women with abnormalities increased sharply between 1987-8 and 1988-9, with increases of 54% (from 2075 to 3196) in the number of smears for follow up of severe dyskaryosis and invasive cancer, 40% (from 1925 to 2695) for mild and moderate dyskaryosis, and 49% (from 1793 to 2677) for borderline change. The increases were partly explained by the introduction in April 1988 of protocols for follow up and investigation based on guidance in an intercollegiate working party report. The proportion of women with mild and moderate dyskaryosis who were recommended for referral for colposcopy increased steadily from 9.9% in 1983-4 to 79.9% in 1988-9, and for borderline change the proportions were 3.5% and 13.6% respectively. Of all women tested in 1988-9, referral for colposcopy was recommended in 3%. CONCLUSIONS--The increase in laboratory follow up work identified, if it continued, could result in half of existing laboratory capacity in Avon being devoted to follow up work by 1993, with little prospect of maintaining call, recall, and quality control. Investigation of all women with minor cytological abnormalities is neither justifiable nor sustainable and will undermine the benefits of screening by increasing the rate of false positive results and the financial costs.