More than 40,000 women in Devon did not attend their last smear test, NHS figures show.

The take-up rate for cervical screenings in Devon has fallen for the third consecutive year.

Only 76.3 per cent of the 189,300 women who were due a smear test before the end of March attended an appointment.

This means around 44,830 women missed out on the ‘life-saving’ programme.

Cancer charities have said the ‘plummeting’ attendance rate in England is enormously worrying.

Karis Betts, from Cancer Research UK, said there were a number of reasons why some women might not attend their smear test.

She said: “Some women don’t know screening is for people without symptoms and there can also be practical or cultural reasons why they might find it difficult to make an appointment.

“We need to fully understand the reasons behind the figures to make screening as accessible and effective as possible.”

Cervical screening is a test that looks for changes in the cells of the cervix which could develop into cancer.

Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for a screening every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 attend every five years.

If they do not have a test within six months of their latest invitation they are counted as not having attended.

In Devon, the younger age group were significantly less likely to be up to date with their tests.

Just 75.1 per cent of 25 to 40-year-olds had attended their last appointment before the end of March compared to 78.1 per cent of 50 to 64-year-olds.