Women in the UK with physical disabilities like muscular atrophy and cerebral palsy are finding it difficult to access cervical screening, with some being denied altogether. While regular cervical cancer screening helps save lives, hospitals and GPs are ill-equipped to respond to the screening needs of those with disabilities.

For instance, some of the medical rooms are too small for wheelchairs or that there are no wide examination beds available. There are cases of other women who are homebound or unable to sit for more than five minutes. In one instance, one lady had to wait eight years until she managed to convince her local GP to organise a home visit for medical screening.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus, which can be passed through sexual contact. Some physically disabled women said it was assumed that they were not sexually active and thus not at risk.

Read the full article on BBC: ‘I was denied cervical screening because of my disability’


Medical screening is one of the fundamental elements of basic healthcare and physical disability should not be a barrier to basic healthcare. However, we must bear in mind that the UK adopts the National Health System (NHS) which offers free healthcare services, including cancer screenings.

Faced with the competing demands on resources that include medical and surgical interventions, long-term chronic disease support and emergencies, how much resources can the NHS devote to medical screenings or adapting existing systems for the use of those with physical disabilities? But surely they cannot continue to discriminate against those who are physically disabled. It is important for the NHS to balance between maintaining quality healthcare services while improving the infrastructure so that access to healthcare is not impeded for anyone.

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. The women with physical disabilities complain of the existing stigma between sex and disability. What further problems do you think this stigma causes for them?
  2. Do you think that Singaporean women with physical disabilities experience the same problem with medical screening? Why do you think this is the case?

Useful vocabulary: 

  • ‘stigma’: a mark of shame or discredit
  • chronic’: continuing or occurring again and again for a long time; chronic disease/ patient