Newcastle: Encouraging cervical screening uptake in ethnic minority women and trans and non-binary communities

A bespoke social media campaign was developed in Newcastle to target ethnically-minoritised and trans/non-binary communities when the government launched its national cervical screening campaign early 2022.

Why increasing uptake is important

Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England every year and around 700 die from the disease. Some of those cases could be prevented if more people attended cervical screening.

Research shows nearly one in three people entitled to screening – women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 – do not regularly attend. Embarrassment is the most common reason for not going, followed by people who said they kept putting it off and others who were worried it would be painful, according to a survey carried out for the Department of Health and Social Care in 2022.

To encourage greater uptake the government launched a campaign, Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives, in February 2022. It included a film featuring the likes of Loose Women panellist Linda Robson and broadcaster Louise Minchin, urging people to respond to their screening letters and book an appointment with their local GP.

But the public health team at Newcastle City Council was worried the national campaign may not have such a great effect on two groups that have among the lowest level of uptake – women from ethnic minority communities and people within the trans and non-binary community.

Within the public health team are two small community-based sexual health and wellbeing services Shine and Mesmac, which are commissioned to provide sexual health services and support to women, men who have sex with men and the trans community look at alternative ways of engagement.

Shine and Mesmac Team Manager Jill Hardie said: “We know from the evidence, who are the least likely to come forward for a range of reasons and may not be necessarily so engaged or influenced by national media campaigns, so we felt it was important to tailor something specific and inclusive.”

Developing a bespoke campaign

With the help of Shine community worker Alessandra Mondin, a suite of social media assets was developed that focused on inclusivity in terms of messages and images and directly targeted ethnically-minoritised and LGBTQ+ people with a cervix.

Instead of using the Help Us Help You images they opted for more vibrant visuals that could capture the attention of the social media user in a more approachable, warmer and immediate manner.

Shine and Mesmac then made sure the assets were sent out on social media channels and groups, including Facebook and Twitter, so they would be noticed by the target audience. Altogether they reached nearly 1,500 people.

“The important thing is that Mesmac and Shine are known and are trusted by the local community,” said Ms Hardie. “This campaign really built on previous work we have done. For example, we have delivered workshops with minoritised women to help alleviate some of their concerns and address myths about screening and other health-related issues.

“We have also provided interpreters and trusted staff they have a relationship with to accompany them if they wanted or arranged for their husbands to go to the GP with them if that is preferred. We also take STI and HIV testing out to the community, to provide opportunistic and accessible interventions in ways that are safe and appropriate.

“This is the key, taking services out to and tailoring them towards people. We sometimes call communities hard-to-reach or hard-to-engage groups, but they are not if you get the messaging and support right.

“The important thing is not to over-complicate the message or bombard people with information. The social media campaign was a perfect example of that. The graphics were eye-catching and clear, and we provided contact details for people to follow up on.”

There are other measures in the pipeline too. In July Newcastle is hosting UK Pride festival and alongside the music and celebrations there is a health zone where the public health team and local GP practices will be asking those taking part to fill in questionnaires about access to primary care, their priorities and the barriers they face.

Ms Hardie added: “We want to hear about people’s experiences so we can continue to look at new ways of improving access. If you don’t ask and don’t get involved with the communities, you are trying to reach out to you will not be successful.”

Contact details

Jill Hardie, Team Manager for Shine and Mesmac, Public Health City Futures Directorate, Newcastle City Council: [email protected]