The Colposcopy team sees around 1700 patients annually covering referrals from Gateshead and part of South Tyneside.
The team sees those who have been referred through the NHS cervical screening programme with abnormal screening as well as those referred from Gynaecological colleagues, GP and sexual health services.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in those with a cervix under the age of 35, yet 1 in 3 do not attend routine cervical screening.
Around 80% of us can at some point have HPV and around 90% of infections clear within 2 years. Some can go on to develop pre-cancerous changes or abnormalities who have HPV.
Meet Sharon Denise Clark, joint colposcopy lead and lead nurse specialist
“We are a very small team of eight which includes me and our interim joint lead Gynae Oncologist Mr Rundle. We also have a trainee colposcopy nurse specialist who also undertakes the day-to-day unit and staffing management and two trainee registrars. Alongside the above, two of our consultant gynae oncologists currently complete regular Colposcopy work also.
Last year we completed around 850 biopsies and 340 treatments. These treatments are often to remove high grade pre-cancerous changes or abnormalities as well as treat early cervical cancers.
We also see a number of patients for follow-up appointments, this may be for surveillance back in the clinic to review the cervix, vagina and vulval areas, ongoing surveillance of our early stage cervical cancers as well as providing conservative management for some with high-grade pre-cancerous changes.
Although this is a very busy job, I absolutely love my role and arguably one of the huge challenges is encouraging those to attend for routine cervical screening and if required a colposcopy appointment.
A huge factor in those not attending is fear and embarrassment – addressing these feelings can be difficult as subjective to personal experiences. I have a real passion for communication and education so I am always happy to speak to patients and try to reassure and clearly address any concerns they may have. I want to ensure they attend their screening and appointments but also have a positive experience as well as provide support to my secondary or primary care colleagues in how this can be achieved.
I provide clinical colposcopy sessions, seeing everything from those with viral/HPV changes, low and high-grade pre-cancerous changes to those with complex multi zonal changes of the lower genital tract as well as treating and managing early stage cervical cancers.
I also work closely with our pre-invasive cohort to support health promotion – we actively encourage stopping smoking and provide specialist support and referral as required in relation to psychosexual concerns. This is a huge area I feel that is overlooked for those with HPV and pre-invasive disorders of the lower genital tract and looking to develop this ahead as part of our service.
When not in the clinic my role also involves chairing our Colposcopy MDT and I also run a telephone clinic to contact those with updates and outcomes to discuss and plan patient-centred care ahead – this may involve treatment under general or local anaesthetic, clinic follow-up, or discharge back to primary care.
We have monthly business meetings which I also co-chair to look at any challenges within the service that as a team we can address and we also discuss positive improvements for our patients and our team – It is always important to ensure our positives are shared with all members of our hard-working team! We work collaboratively regionally also as part of South of Tyne and Wear and meet up with our wider regional colleagues and our fantastic regional lab team here at Gateshead.
I am also the lead trainer for our service and it’s a part of the role again I am passionate about – There is nothing more satisfying than being able to educate and support colleagues to feel confident and to be able to provide competent highly skilled quality services for our patients.
As joint lead of our service – My weeks are also filled with ensuring our service meets clinical targets and demands – a multi factor approach in communication and leadership is required and a good positive working relationship with our matron and service line manager alongside our consultant and lab team is paramount and crucial in supporting and providing a quality service.
This also includes me supporting and completing regular audit work, compiling and submitting data for our quarterly and annual submission to public health and I am also presently looking at commencing some research.
Outside of my role – I work providing clinical advice education and reassurance to patients nationally as part of the Jos Cervical Trust ‘Ask the expert’ panel for those with pre-invasive and invasive disorders of the lower genital tract.
Most recently I have also become part of the Public Health England screening quality assurance team as a regional professional clinical advisor – A role to not only aid to improve our service further but also support the work our other local units also provide. I also presented at this year’s BSCCP (British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology) meeting on the importance of communication and have been invited to support the society in improvements in training around this.
Looking ahead, we continually look to improve the services we offer to patients and our staff. One of the initiatives I wish to bring for our staff is more accessible cervical screening as we all struggle to access this around busy shift patterns and our lives outside of work.
A career in cervical screening and colposcopy is extremely rewarding but also a challenging one. I am looking forward to what the future holds for the service and I look forward to continuing the good work for our patients alongside our fantastic team.”