THOUSANDS of women in Dorset are having to contend with the anxiety of long waits for smear test results.

A mandatory 14-day turnaround time was introduced for cervical screening results in 2010, and providers have to ensure they meet the target in at least 98 per cent of cases.

But Public Health England data shows that only 88 per cent of women screened in the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group area in the 12 months to July were sent their results within two weeks.

This means that 4,940 women who attended a smear test in this period – one in eight – didn't get their results through on time.

Robert Music, chief executive of cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust, said: "Lots of people have approached us through our helpline saying they are waiting 12, 14, 16 weeks for their results.

"It is creating anxiety which is not a healthy thing, and our concern is that it could put women off attending their appointments.

"With screening attendance already at a 20-year low, that is worrying."

Despite falling below the 14-day benchmark, the performance in Dorset was still above the national average.

More than three million results were sent out in England over the same period, and almost half of them were late.

Only 16 out of 195 CCGs met the threshold for providing 98 per cent of results within two weeks.

A new test which will look for the cancer-causing HPV virus straight away rather than for abnormal cells in the cervix will be rolled out across England in 2019.

According to Mr Music, fewer cytologists will be needed with the new method, and this has caused staff shortages as they leave for new jobs ahead of the change.

Jo's Trust says a "complex and fragmented" cervical screening system is preventing problems from being addressed, and has called for a review.

Mr Music added: "Cervical screenings prevent 75 per cent of cervical cancers and save more than 5,000 lives every year. So please go to your test if you’re due one."

An NHS England spokesman said: “NHS England and Public Health England are committed to the introduction of primary HPV screening, which will identify more women at risk and save more lives.

"Enabling laboratories to convert to HPV primary screening ahead of the procurement process is just one practical step being taken to ensure the NHS achieves full coverage of primary HPV screening by December 2019.”