With Cancer Screening Rates Plummeting During COVID, Women’s Health Nurses Eager to Make Up for Lost Time

BRHS Health Promotion Officer Lilly Hodge, and Women’s Health Nurses Di Gibbs and Heather Daly. Photo: Jake Lynch/BRHS


Did you skip making a cervical cancer screening appointment last year because of COVID?

If you did, you were not alone.

Cervical cancer screenings across Australia fell by as much as 67 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, due mostly to COVID restrictions.

And for Di Gibbs, that’s a real worry.

Di is one of BRHS’ Women’s Health Nurses, which provide a range of health services to women of all ages, including cervical and bowel cancer screenings.

“If you skipped a cervical screening last year, or if you haven’t had one since December 2017, give us a call and we’ll make it happen.”

“If you catch these cancers early, your chances of survival are so much greater,” Di said. “That’s why screenings are so important – that’s how we catch them early. And so when we saw that COVID was dramatically reducing how many women were getting screened, we knew that was a big problem.”

Now that COVID restrictions are easing, Di and her colleague at BRHS, Heather Daly, are keen to make up for lost time.

Their message to the women of East Gippsland is simple.

“If you skipped a cervical screening last year, or if you haven’t had one since December 2017, give us a call and we’ll make it happen,” Heather said. “You don’t need a referral from your GP. If you’re over 25, all you need to do is call us, and we’ll schedule it for you.”

This streamlined, one-call system makes it easy for women who perhaps only travel into Bairnsdale occasionally to get a cancer screening in one visit.

The cost for screenings is based on your ability to pay – typically just $10.10 if you have a concession card, or $15.50 for those in the medium income range.

Of course, cancer screening is just one of the services for women and girls that Di and Heather provide.

These experienced, specially-trained Women’s Health nurses can answer questions or worries about any women’s health topics.

In addition to the cervical and bowel cancer screenings, the Women’s Health nurses also do health checks for women, including:

  • Chlamydia tests
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Blood pressure
  • Breast health and breast cancer support

Heather said one of the things she felt most keenly about COVID disruptions was losing the opportunity to talk to people about health issues.

“Often women would visit us for a screening, and this could then lead to conversations about other health concerns,” she said. “That’s really important, to help put people at ease and be able to refer for support to address their concerns about other issues they might be having.”

“Those chats can really help. So come and chat with us.”

To make an appointment with BRHS’ Women’s Health Nurses, call 5152 0231, or email chealth@brhs.com.au