By Democrat reporter
Some NHS Scotland national screening programmes which were paused in March because of coronavirus (COVID-19) are set to resume safely, carefully and in a series of stages.
From today anyone who was invited for cervical screening before the pause and was yet to make an appointment or had their appointment cancelled will be able to contact their GP practice to make an appointment.
Appointment invitations and reminders will be posted from mid-July, with invitations sent first to those who receive more frequent (non-routine) cervical screening appointments. Routine screening will recommence once NHS Scotland has caught up with non-routine appointments affected by the pause.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Pausing the adult national screening programmes was one of a series of difficult decisions we have had to make in responding to the impact of COVID-19. The programmes were temporarily paused on 30 March in order to reduce the risk of patients becoming infected with the virus, to enable physical distancing and minimise the impact on essential NHS services as they responded to COVID-19.
“Our plans to resume the screening programmes are based on expert clinical advice and the recommendations of the Scottish Screening Committee. They have been discussed and agreed with Health Board Chief Executives as part of the planned safe and incremental remobilisation of NHS Scotland.
“The safety of patients and staff will continue to be our priority as the screening programmes restart and expand. I want to reassure you that we are taking these precautions so that we can safely offer the right care, at the right time, in the right place.”
Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Robert Music, said: “It’s great that cervical screening in Scotland is beginning to resume. We have seen a growing level of anxiety and confusion due to cancelled appointments, so we are pleased that access to this lifesaving test is restarting.
“Cervical screening is not always easy, and many people have new questions and concerns about the test and how it all works now. We don’t want COVID-19 to make cervical screening harder, so do reach out to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust if you want support or more information before attending.”
Marion O’Neil, Head of External Affairs (Devolved Nations) at Cancer Research UK, said: “It is great news that efforts are underway to re-start cervical cancer screening services as we know cancer screening saves lives. It can detect cancers at an early stage and in some cases prevent them from developing in the first place.
“People who require further investigation need to be able to get follow-up appointments as quickly as possible. If people have any concerning symptoms while the screening programmes are getting back on track it is essential they get in touch with their GP practice.”
Meanwhile, health boards are resuming bowel screening colonoscopies and the breast screening service is assisting acute services to prioritise high risk familial clinics and post treatment surveillance screening, while preparing for the resumption of the national breast screening programme. Higher risk participants on the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) and Diabetic Retinopathy Screening (DRS) programmes will begin to receive appointments from 6 July.
It is vital that people in between screening appointments or awaiting an appointment to be aware of any symptoms or signs of the conditions screened for. Anyone having these symptoms should contact their GP practice.
More information on the national screening programme is available on NHS Inform.
Updates on public health advice for COVID-19 can be found on NHS Inform, and a free helpline has been set up for those who do not have symptoms but are looking for general health advice: 0800 028 2816. If patients have any concerns they should contact 999 for emergencies or 111 for any urgent requests.
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 should now contact the NHS to arrange to be tested – either online at NHS Inform, or by calling 0800 028 2816.
A temporary pause to Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA), Bowel, Breast, Cervical and Diabetic Retinopathy screening was announced on 30 March. This decision was made on the basis of clinical advice from the Chief Medical Officer, detailed risk assessments and a recommendation by NHS National Services Scotland to pause these programmes.