health articles

HPV self-sampling

Virtually Healthcare offers convenient and discreet HPV self-sampling in the comfort and privacy of your home. Our experienced GPs provide free advice, guidance and tests to identify HPV, protect your partners and prevent the development of cervical cancer.

What is HPV self-sampling?

HPV self-sampling is a technique that allows women to check for HPV infection in their own homes. The project has been highlighted in the media with reports calling them ‘DIY smear tests’, ‘HPV self-tests’ and ‘Cervical home-testing kits.’ All the terms describe the same investigation. It’s not like a smear test, there’s no need for a speculum. Instead it’s a simple, at-home, swab test that allows women to test their cervical health themselves, instead of having an internal examination and test by a GP or practice nurse.

Professor Peter Johnson, the NHS national clinical director for cancer, highlighted the importance of the test:

This is an important new way to make screening easier for thousands of women. We know there are lots of reasons why women might not attend a screening appointment, including worries about COVID.

GPs have taken extra precautions to make surgeries safe, and these home kits give thousands of women another option to keep up to date with their screening. We would urge every woman to make sure they have their smear test – the earlier HPV is detected the better. It could save your life.

The Virtually Healthcare difference

Virtually Healthcare is an innovative GP practice, providing expert care in the comfort, safety and privacy of your home. The Virtually Healthcare service is designed to fit with modern lives. Consultations are easy to access, discreet and convenient with virtual appointments available seven days a week.

The highly-skilled team includes more than 40 clinicians working together to investigate and treat disease, and help you optimise your health and wellbeing. As well as experienced GPs, the team includes sexual health specialists, physiotherapists and practice nurses to offer a comprehensive primary care service.

During the pandemic, many patients are finding it more difficult to access healthcare. Virtually Healthcare provides rapid access video or telephone appointments; with consultations available the same day if you contact us before 3pm. Our clinicians can provide professional assessment and advice, arrange investigations, prescribe treatment or arrange for a face-to-face review.

What is HPV?

HPV is the human papillomavirus, a common group of viruses that cause warty growths on the skin, genitals and throat. There are over a hundred types of HPV, some types cause sexually transmitted genital warts. Infection with the strains HPV-16 and HPV-18 are linked to developing abnormal cells on the cervix and cancer of the cervix. HPV causes the great majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers.

The good news is that early diagnosis of HPV infection, close monitoring of women with HPV and prompt treatment of any abnormal cells can prevent cervical cancer developing. Cervical screening is changing, now all investigations will test for HPV first. HPV can be diagnosed as part of the national screening programme during a cervical smear test or by HPV self-sampling. This will help us identify and care for women most at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Why is cervical screening attendance falling?

Smear test attendance has been falling in the UK. Several different factors including COVID, problems getting appointments, embarrassment, fear, disability and cultural issues can all contribute to this trend.

It’s a problem because the cervical screening programme has been very effective. Since its introduction in 1988 it has resulted in a 60–70% reduction in mortality from cervical cancer. That’s why Virtually Healthcare are working with the NHS, Public Health England, NHS Digital and Kings College to improve uptake of cervical screening.

Innovation in cervical screening at Virtually Healthcare

Virtually Healthcare has been invited to be part of a ground-breaking trial looking at the best way to offer HPV self-sampling as part of the national cervical screening programme. The YouScreen trial is being run by NHS England, Public Health England, NHS Digital and King’s College London.

Some women will have HPV sampling at home instead of their regular smear test.
If the home test is positive for HPV, you will be invited for a follow-up with one of the experienced doctors or nurses at Virtually Healthcare for a standard smear test.

If the study is successful, the national screening programmes could be able to offer self-sampling to all women, helping more women protect their cervix and prevent cancer.

Cervical screening at Virtually Healthcare

Virtually Healthcare provides cervical smear tests and HPV self-sampling free of charge. The clinic has experienced practice nurses and 15 female GPs offering smear tests in a calm, supportive environment. If you feel nervous about having a cervical smear test, Virtually Healthcare offers assessment, treatment and support on the phone and online and HPV self-sampling at home.

Our team is working with the NHS cervical screening service, enabling us to send self-sampling testing kits directly to your home. We will also provide video step-by-step guidance to taking samples.

How does the HPV self-sampling test work?

The HPV self-sampling service at Virtually Healthcare is discreet, simple and completely confidential.

  1. If your smear test is overdue you may be offered an HPV self-sample test.
    One of our clinical team may suggest it during another consultation, or you may be mailed directly.
  2. You will receive a YouScreen kit in the post. This contains everything you need to collect and return your self-sample including a swab, detailed instructions, patient information leaflet, cervical screening leaflet, HPV information leaflet, laboratory request/consent form, and a prepaid envelope for sending your sample to the laboratory.
  3. Taking the swab is simple and painless. You can do it in privacy at home; there is no need for a speculum.
  4. Twist and remove the swab from its tube. Hold the swab on the red mark on the stem of the swab. Carefully insert the swab into the vagina until you reach the red mark. Rotate it gently for 20 seconds then slowly remove the swab.Put it back into to the tube and replace the lid.
  5. Place the swab in the pre-addressed envelope and post it to the laboratory for analysis.
  6. If the test is positive, we will arrange a standard smear test, support and follow up. Initial tests suggest that a small number of women will have to do this, around 13%.
Hot topics in cervical screening

Is HPV self-sampling painful?

Having had smear tests at the surgery, many women are understandably nervous about testing themselves. The good news is that HPV self-sampling is not like a traditional smear test. If you’ve ever done a home STI test it’s more like those.

There is no speculum. You can do the test at home when you’re relaxed and comfortable. You insert a swab that looks like a long, thin cotton bud into your vagina. You don’t need to make the swab enter or touch your cervix. The test kit comes with clear and detailed instructions, both in writing and pictures. Taking a sample takes no more than a few minutes.

Are HPV self-sampling results reliable?

If you follow the instructions, research shows that self-testing gives very accurate results. In fact, trials show that 99% of people self-sample accurately.

The kits have detailed instructions and a video to provide guidance. If the sample is inadequate, you will receive another self-sample kit by post.

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.