Cervical cancer screening numbers have declined for the fourth consecutive year, according to new figures released by NHS Digital.

As of March 31 this year, the percentage of eligible women aged 25 to 64 screened adequately for cervical cancer was 71.4%, compared with 72% in 2017, the data show.

Of the 4.46 million women invited for screening, only 3.18 million were officially tested in 2017/18. Invitations to screen are sent to women eligible for both routine screening, and for repeat screens for women who are under surveillance, showing abnormalities, or have had a previous inadequate screen.

Despite 99 regions in the UK still testing over 70% of eligible women, London is an anomaly with less than 70% of women being tested city-wide, with figures as low as 51.6% in Kensington and Chelsea.

The statistics “are highly frustrating and, coupled with rising cervical cancer diagnoses, an enormous worry. Yet it is not a surprise to see that attendance continues to fall as women in England are frankly being let down,” said Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust of the continuous decline.

“At a time when we should be making screening easier to attend, it is getting harder and harder to access,” he went on to say. “Many women struggle to get screening appointments at their GP, access through sexual health is declining and there is limited provision for those requiring extra support including survivors of sexual violence or those with a learning disability.

He also noted: “We have been too slow to innovate and much needed investment is not happening. We have a highly effective programme, yet it is being delivered on an IT system which is ready to collapse.

“We cannot sit back and let cervical screening coverage continue to plummet or diagnoses of this often-preventable cancer will rise and more mothers, daughters, sisters and friends will be lost.”

Cancer Research UK has previously stated that screening for cervical cancer prevents 70% of deaths from the disease, but this figure could be as high as 83% if all eligible women had regular smear tests.