Mammograms And Smear Tests On Our Lunch Breaks Are Good News – But Why Can’t We Take Time Off?

The NHS has pledged to offer cancer screening during lunch breaks, but shouldn't we feel able to leave work for something that essential?

Mammograms And Smear Tests On Our Lunch Breaks Are Good News - But Why Can't We Take Time Off?

by Rebecca Reid |
Updated on

We all know that we should attend our smear tests and mammograms when we're called for them. They're life-saving, disease-preventing, essential services we're lucky to have access to. And yet women all over the UK put off going.

Often non-attendance is blamed on fear and embarrassment but in reality it's often more about the logistics of getting the test done. Once you get an appointment (which in some areas can be complicated), you've then got to be able to attend it. If said appointment is scheduled during the working day you'll either need time off work or childcare.

Asking for time off work can feel awkward, especially if it's for a medical reason. Yes, technically you are entitled be able to announce that you have a doctor's appointment without anyone pressing you for details, but in practice it often results in people asking you what's wrong.

If you work with people you know and like, or you're high enough up that you don't have to explain an absence, then booking time off for a mammogram or a smear is no big deal. But there are plenty of women all over the UK who would be embarrassed or even ashamed to tell their co-workers that they're having a smear test.

Even if you're happy to tell your colleagues in great detail that you're getting your cervix brushed, there are plenty of jobs where sick pay isn't an option. On a zero-hours contract if you don't work, you don't get paid. If taking a half or whole day off in order to attend a medical appointment means losing out on a chunk of your weekly income then it starts to seem a lot less appealing.

Being able to book a smear or mammogram during your lunch break will go some way towards enabling women to attend these essential services. But surely we should also work to create a situation in which everyone, whatever their employment or childcare situation, is able to take time off work if they need to, especially for something as important as a cancer screening.

Women – all women, not just those who work in full time white collar jobs – need to be able to take fully paid time off for essential medical appointments, and they need to be able to do so without having to explain what the appointment is for. Stay-at-home parents need access to childcare so that they can attend appointments, or at the absolute least need to be able to bring their children to their appointments.

We're told time and time again that women don't go to their appointments because they're too scared or too embarrassed, but there are women out there who would be perfectly happy to withstand the indignity of putting their feet in stirrups if it didn't mean spending money they don't have on childcare or losing out on a day's pay.

READ MORE: Why It Is So Important To Have Your Smear Test

READ MORE: We Live Blogged A Cervical Smear Test. Enjoy

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