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Is a lack of access to Pap tests putting B.C. women at risk?
People in British Columbia are having trouble accessing Pap tests because of physician time constraints, according to clinic staff in Vancouver.
Under Canadian guidelines, Pap tests are recommended every three years for women aged 25 to 69 as a way of screening for cervical cancer.
A doctor places a speculum into the vagina and uses a swab to scrape the surface of the cervix for cells.
The test can find abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous.
The BC Women's Hospital and Health Centre Foundation estimates 700 people were turned away from sexual health drop-in clinics in B.C. in 2018 for services, including Pap tests.
Staff at Vancouver clinic Options for Sexual Health say patients have voiced concerns.
"Some of the barriers that we hear that people experience is that their family physician won't do paps," clinic services director Helena Palmqvist De Felice told CTV News.
"I think one of the realities is it takes more time to do a pap, a pelvic exam, than many other things," added executive director Michelle Fortin.
Access can be even more difficult for those unable to find a family doctor.
In 2018, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 780,000 people living in B.C. do not have a primary-care doctor or nurse practitioner.
Patients in rural areas often have a harder time accessing healthcare, and the wait for a pap test at an Options clinic in a rural area can be up to two months.
Financial challenges also prevent the clinic from operating extended hours.
"We've had the experience in the past year where one of our nurses has gone on maternity leave or is moved away or retired and we literally can't find staff to staff those clinics and keep them open," explained Palmqvist De Felice.
Staff want to see more funding for clinics geared towards sexual health and more education for physicians and nurse practitioners surrounding sexual health.
According to the BC Cancer Agency, if cervix cancer is caught in the earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 85 per cent. Screening can reduce risk by 70 per cent.