Screening for breast, cervical, bowel and other cancers has been “paused” as NHS Scotland ramps up its capacity to deal with an expected increase in case numbers.
The cancellations were revealed by Nicola Sturgeon at her daily briefing, where she also disclosed that there had been a further six deaths from Covid-19, taking the numbers to 47.
Overall there have been 1563 positive cases confirmed, an increase of 179 from yesterday, with 108 people in intensive care, up 13.
It was also revealed that the new Scotland Cares volunteer portal, which opened this morning, has already seen 10,000 people register to help.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed a temporary hospital was being set up within the SECC in Glasgow, although it was still “entirely possible we will not have to use it”.
She said the hospital could become operational within a fortnight with capacity for 1000 patients but stressed that currently there were 3000 beds within Scotland’s hospitals “already available for coronavirus patients”.
She added: “We have also had to take the difficult decision to suspend NHS screening programmes, including breast, cervical and bowel cancer screening. This is not a decision taken lightly but it is important to maximise the ability of the NHS to cope in forthcoming weeks.”
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, said the decision to “pause” screening had been taken with “careful thought”, and that it was a "balance of risks".
The affected programmes are are breast screening, cervical screening, bowel home pack tests, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening and diabetic retinopathy screening. Pregnancy and new born screening will continue as normal.
“There was concern people wouldn't attend appointments,” said Dr Calderwood. “We were also concerned that because of staff absences there would have been a reduced service. The mobile breast screening vans, for instance, would not have been able to be used because of risk of transmission.”
She said staff would now be repurposed, in particular in laboratories to help with coronavirus testing, and that a dedicated helpline would be set up to help people with screening enquiries, but people with symptoms should still contact their GPs.