Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has repeated his call for a re-opening of self-referrals to the breast cancer screening programme and targeted strategies in communities that rely on mobile screening units.
Speaking during Health and Social Care Questions, Mr McArthur explained that the continued pause in self referrals for women over 70 is causing concern amongst "many women" in Orkney at a time when cancer diagnosis rates are down and overall incidences of cancer are up. In response, the Minister for Public Health said that "while programme capacity remains challenging due to Covid-19 [she has] asked officials to accelerate consideration of restart options".
In response to Mr McArthur’s demand for targeted strategies in areas, like Orkney, served by mobile units on three yearly cycles, the Minister said that she "can assure everyone that women who live in island communities will not be forgotten".
Mr McArthur also questioned the Minister on possible plans to move from a three to five-year cycle for screening. The Minister replied, saying, "all of those decisions are guided by the UK Screening Committee [...] I am not aware of a change to 5-year screening, but should they come forward with that recommendation we would be inclined to accept it".
The Scottish Breast Screening Programme invites women aged between 50 and 70 years old for screening every three years. In rural and island communities, this is carried out using mobile screening units. Self-referral was paused at the start of the pandemic, with some priority services resuming last August. Mr McArthur also raised the issue with the First Minister in June last year.
Commenting after the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
"Self-referrals by women aged over 70 have been common in the past and the continued pause on this activity has led to understandable concern amongst those affected, including many in Orkney. This is all the more the case for those with a family history of breast cancer.
"In that context, I welcome the Minister's confirmation that she has tasked officials to 'accelerate' consideration of re-starting self-referrals to this service. Nearly two years on since self-referrals were first paused, we need to see all cancer screenings scaled up as quickly as possible.
"As we moved back to pre-pandemic arrangements, more will have to be done in places like Orkney that rely on mobile screening units to ensure all those who need or wish to be screened can be seen without fear of lengthy delays.
"I welcome the Minister's assurance and will seek to hold her and the government to it."