FEWER women in Swindon are having their cervical smear tests according to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The percentage of women aged 24 to 49 who took the test to check for cervical cancer fell by 1.5 per cent since 2012, with almost a quarter of the women eligible to take the test failing to respond to invitations to have the screening.

Up to March 2013, only 71.1 per cent of 25 to 49 year old women asked to undergo a smear test responded, compared to 72.6 per cent in 2012.

But the number of eligible women aged 50 to 64 taking the test increased from 76.1 per cent to 76.8 per cent in the same time period.

The data also showed that fewer women in Swindon received the test in the period 2012/2013 than the national average, with only 77.5 per cent of all eligible women aged 25 to 64 taking the test in Swindon compared to 78.3 per cent of women in England.

The news has alarmed experts at Public Health England, who have continued to urge women to respond to their invitations for screening.

Richard Winder, deputy director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes at Public Health England, said: “Busier lifestyles often make it more of a challenge for women to attend their cervical screening appointments, but regular screening remains the best preventative measure against cervical cancer and we strongly encourage all women to accept the offer for cervical screening when invited.”

Some critics claim that the rise in numbers of women not getting tested is because of difficulties in making appointments with their GP, but the Department of Health disagreed.

A spokesman said: “We know there was a significant rise in women wanting tests in 2009 following Jade Goody’s death, and now fewer women choose to take up the invitation to have a smear.

“The old 48-hour GP appointment target actually worsened access and under new plans, millions more people will get to see their family doctor at evenings and weekends.”

Although the screening is not a test for cancer, it is a way to prevent cancer by detecting and treating abnormalities which could lead to cervical cancer developing.