Anecdotal reports from cervical screening centres around the UK suggest a dramatic surge in uptake of screening following a Coronation Street storyline in which character Alma Halliwell is diagnosed with terminal cancer, having missed a smear test.

Although it is too early to establish the extent of the increase in demand for screening, it is believed that many of those coming forward for tests in the past few weeks are women in the older age group who haven't previously attended.

Dr Heather Grimbaldeston, public health consultant and screening lead for the North West region, said there had been some initial concerns about the soap storyline, in case it acted as a deterrent to women to have smears.

The Coronation Street character, who is in her 50s, is told her cancer is untreatable after having failed to attend for screening followed by a mix-up in results.

'We process more than 600,000 smears a year in the North West and We are doing very well in terms ofour quality assurance overall, but because this is a North Westbased story we were worried that it might mean some women didn't attend - We are delighted if It is actually meant women are coming forward, ' Dr Grimbaldeston told HSJ.

The region - which includes two of the health authorities with the lowest screening uptake in England - has been investing heavily in the service to improve coverage, including the appointment of nurse co-ordinators.

'There may be a number of factors coming together, but if this storyline is enhancing the efforts we are making we are really pleased, 'Dr Grimbaldeston said.

'There is a pattern emerging and obviously we are monitoring it and any backlog it causes, ' a spokesperson for the cervical screening programme said. 'We recognise this may cause shortterm pressures on the service, but if we can detect any problems in these women early then we can save lives.'