By Bill Heaney
Labour’s health spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, pictured right, challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on long delays for hospital appointments which were causing “emotional turmoil” for women.
She said: “A woman in my constituency has waited a year since her initial smear test, which reported an abnormality, to receive an appointment for a follow-up colposcopy.
“The appointments that were offered to her in December and then January have both been cancelled. She is not alone, because waiting times for colposcopies are going up, not down, and women’s health is at risk.
“Will the First Minister prioritise action on women’s health and ensure that women are not put through the emotional turmoil of having to wait a minute longer than they need for urgent diagnostic tests?”
The First Minister assured her: “People who need urgent tests are seen quickly. Often, individual cases are, rightly, raised with me in the chamber and, although I am not saying that this is the case with the incident that Jackie Baillie has narrated, and although I obviously cannot go into individual case details in the chamber, sometimes, there is more complexity to these cases than is put before the chamber. That is why I always say that I am happy to look into individual cases.
“There is significant investment in capacity for diagnostic tests and for any follow-up that is required as a result of them. That is particularly important around a range of women’s health conditions.
“We prioritise women’s health and, shortly, we will publish the report on our women’s health plan, and we are making progress with the appointment of a women’s health champion.
“These issues are of priority, and will continue to be so.”
Conservative MSP Sue Webber had asked what what progress the Scottish Government has made in clearing the reported backlog of people waiting for key diagnostic tests.
The First Minister told her: “A range of work is being taken forward by national health service boards to increase capacity, workforce and activity for diagnostics, including the use of seven mobile MRI and five mobile CT scanners to provide additional activity.
“I am conscious that the Conservatives claimed this weekend that there are five-year waits for diagnostic tests and that they described that as ‘scarcely believable’. There is, of course, a reason for that, which is that it is simply untrue.
“NHS Grampian has pointed out that the Tories have misrepresented data that they received in a freedom of information request response. It is routine for patients who have been treated for forms of cancer or received neurosurgical care to have pre-planned and scheduled scans in future years, to monitor their progress and condition after treatment. Those are not diagnostic tests prior to treatment, as the Conservatives claimed.
“Clearly, our NHS is wrestling with a number of very significant pressures right now, but it does no service to anyone when the Conservatives distort figures and mislead the public.”
However, Sue Webber insisted: “One health board has taken the decision to reduce its endoscopic capacity by 3,500 procedures over the next 12 months. That means that there are 35 people living with undiagnosed cancer.
“Because of Scottish Government cuts, rather than being able to increase its diagnostic endoscopic services to meet the demand, that board is being forced to cut the service. How can the backlog be cleared when diagnostic services are being cut?”
But the First Minister stuck to her guns: “There are no cuts to national health service budgets. On the contrary, we are proposing a £1 billion increase to the budget of the national health service next year.
“Again, that is something that would not have been possible had we taken Tory advice to cut taxes for the richest people in our society. Within that, capacity for diagnostic tests is being increased, because everybody recognises that the earliest possible diagnosis, especially for cancer, is vital.”