Maurice Corry, Nicola Sturgeon and Willie Rennie.

By Bill Heaney

West of Scotland list MSP Maurice Corry has asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to confirm that outpatient consultant appointments that involve test results, particularly in respect of potential cancer diagnoses, should not be postponed or cancelled by health boards during the current pandemic emergency.

The First Minister said this should not happen – “Urgent treatment should not be cancelled, and we have made that very clear. Clinically driven decisions will be made on the balance of risk for different patients.

“Clinicians will look at the patient’s circumstances and decide whether the risks of postponement are greater or less than the risks of a patient going to hospital, potentially coming into contact with other people and being exposed to the virus.

“Those decisions are being made, but if something is urgent, it should happen and not be postponed.”

She added: “As I said to [LibDem leader] Willie Rennie, we are now in a process of thinking through how we restore and resume non-urgent procedures that have been postponed, so that we get the national health service, as well as society generally, back to as much normality as we can as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Anas Sarwar, a Labour MSP, says that while he is broadly supportive of the lockdown measures in place, and the rationale behind them, he wanted to raise concerns about the unintended consequences.

He told MSPs: “We are storing up future physical conditions and psychological trauma. We have already seen a reduction of 70 per cent in the rate of referral for cancer diagnosis and an increase in treatment times.

“On psychological trauma, I am aware of a constituent whose wife is in the final stages of her cancer. He has not been able to see her for almost 40 days.

“He rightly asks why he is allowed to be 2m away from strangers in supermarkets, but is not able to see his wife in the final stages of her life.

Anas Sarwar MSP

Surely there is a practical solution that would prevent such situations. It could involve testing, adequate levels of personal protective equipment and social distancing. Let us not build up unintended consequences that will stay with people for the rest of their lives.”

The FM was sympathetic and said that in general terms, the guidance that is in place for hospitals and care homes allows for end-of-life visits of relatives.

She told  Anas Sarwar to pass on more details of the case and in order to provide clarity that might help in that situation – “we would be happy to do so”.

Ms Sturgeon told him: “However, we have always recognised the extreme sensitivity of family contact at the end of a loved one’s life.

On the broader issue—I hope that Anas Sarwar will take this in the way that it is intended—I really do not need people to tell me about the unintended consequences of all this. I spend every day, as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport [Jeane Freeman] and other ministers do, worrying about, thinking through and grappling with all the issues that are being created by the action that we are having to take to suppress the virus.

“I know that everybody is doing the same, and I know that all those questions come from a thoroughly good and well-meaning place.  We now face issues of complexity and necessity. What will not change over the next period is the requirement to suppress the virus.

“What has to change is how we are doing that, so that we get to a point at which we have a better balance that allows people to get back to a degree of normality and mitigates any unintended consequences but does not risk the virus running out of control. That is the balance that we are trying to strike.”

She added: “I specifically mentioned that issue yesterday. We want to get cancer screening programmes started again as quickly as possible and, as part of the work that we are doing right now, we are looking at how that can be done safely and to what timescale.”

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