By Bill Heaney
Scotland has been trailing behind other parts of the United Kingdom for some time on the resumption of breast cancer screening for those who are aged over 71, Tory MSP Sue Webber told the Scottish Parliament this week.
She said: “That is having a real impact on women who are aged over 70. Just last week, I was contacted by a woman from Edinburgh whose request for a mammogram was twice refused by NHS Lothian.
“However, Margaret was able to get an appointment in Newcastle, where screening revealed an invasive lobular breast cancer, which needed to be removed by surgery and follow-up radiation.
“I will ask the First Minister three simple questions. If other UK nations can continue to screen, why cannot Scotland do it?
“In the meantime, does the First Minister think that it is acceptable for Scots to have to travel to England for screening?
“Does the First Minister agree with my constituent, Margaret, that her cancer might have been detected much earlier and with a much more favourable outcome if her request for screening had not been refused in Scotland?”
However, Nicola Sturgeon, left, said: “Those are important issues and it is important for me to be clear about aspects of them. In doing so, I will try to address all three of the questions. In respect of the individual case, I understand the concern and anxiety of the individual concerned.
“Breast screening is recommended for patients who are between 50 and 70. The clinical recommendation is that routine breast screening should be done every three years.
“As we have sought to recover those services from the impact of the pandemic, and after the brief cessation of all screening services at an earlier stage of the pandemic, our advice has been that we focus first on those for whom breast screening is specifically recommended, in order that we can ensure that we can catch up on appointments that have been missed for that group.
“To address the first question, I say that other UK Governments will take their own decisions. I have heard a concern that reintroducing optional screening for women who are over 70 has, in other parts of the UK, had an impact on ensuring that services can be caught up for women for whom screening is recommended.
“I do not know whether that is the case, but I have heard that concern being communicated.
“We have sought to prioritise women for whom breast screening is recommended. However, we are currently working towards reintroduction of self-referrals for women who are over the age of 71 later this year.
“We intend that that service will be resumed in the autumn. We consider that we will be able to allow that to happen, while ensuring that any impact on the eligible screening population is minimised, which is really important.”