Trust in cervical screening and attributions of blame for interval cancers following a national controversy

May 17, 2024

British Journal of Health Psychology 

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Objectives: This study investigated levels of trust and attributions of blame in connection with a cervical screening programme following a controversy related to the programme's audit, incorporating an experimental test of the effectiveness of new information materials.

Design: We compared responses in Ireland (N = 872) to equivalent responses in Scotland (N = 400). Participants in Ireland were randomly assigned to either a treatment group that received the information materials or a control group that did not. Participants then responded to questions about their trust in cervical screening and to whom they would attribute blame in a range of scenarios describing women diagnosed with cervical cancer between screening rounds.

Results: Results showed that the control group in Ireland had lower trust and attributed higher blame towards screening services than participants in Scotland. However, exposure to information materials in the treatment group improved trust and reduced blame.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that public controversies influence perceptions of screening programmes and underscore the importance of transparent, choice-based communication in mitigating these effects. The findings have valuable implications for screening services worldwide as all screening programmes will have associated false negative and false positive results.