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Nicola Sturgeon: Breast cancer services in Tayside have not ‘collapsed’

Nicola Sturgeon said the Government would not ‘shy away’ from further reviews (Jane Barlow/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon said the Government would not ‘shy away’ from further reviews (Jane Barlow/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon has denied claims that breast cancer services in Tayside have “collapsed”, as Anas Sarwar said there were no breast oncologists left in the region.

The SNP and Scottish Labour leaders clashed over cancer treatment at NHS Tayside during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

It follows the release of a documentary by the Courier newspaper, which examined the use of chemotherapy for breast cancer in the health board.

Between December 2016 and March 2019, patients were given lower doses of drugs compared to other health boards.

First Minster’s Questions
Anas Sarwar said services have ‘collapsed’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The documentary also claims doctors who tried to raise the alarm were ignored or “silenced”.

NHS Tayside disputed Mr Sarwar’s claim, saying a locum breast oncologist was in place.

Referring to the documentary, Mr Sarwar said: “Breast cancer chemotherapy in NHS Tayside has collapsed, leaving vulnerable women traveling across the country to receive life-saving treatment.

“At the root of the problem is a chemotherapy dosing scandal that has gone on for three and a half years.”

Mammogram – Derby City Hospital
Rishi Sunak said recruitment of oncologists is ongoing (Rui Vieira/PA)

He said patients and doctors did not believe the conclusions of a Government report into the issue.

The First Minister responded: “Anas Sarwar is wrong to describe the Tayside service as having collapsed.

“That neither comes close to accurately describing the current service, nor does it do anything to help any current patients or the dedicated doctors that are working within that centre.”

She said that about 150 new patients were referred to Tayside’s breast services each week, with just seven receiving treatment in another centre.

It is “shamefully wrong” to describe the centre as having collapsed, she said.

Ms Sturgeon said she would look at the latest reports and the Government would not “shy away” from further reviews if necessary.

Mr Sarwar responded: “There are zero breast cancer oncologists in Tayside, zero.

“If zero doesn’t equate to collapse, then I’m not sure what definition the First Minister does use.”

There are nine vacancies in the department, he said, and more than 200 women have had to travel to other parts of the country for treatment.

The First Minister said the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, would be meeting with clinical teams next week.

She said NHS Tayside had a “committed and compassionate” team of doctors and recruitment is ongoing.

Ms Sturgeon said: “It is absolutely right to raise these issues.

“But it does do a disservice to those working in that centre to describe it as being in a state of collapse because that is not the case.”

NHS Tayside medical director Dr Pamela Johnston said: “NHS Tayside is absolutely committed to delivering a breast cancer service locally.

“The oncology team has been working with other centres in Scotland to ensure patients receive the radiotherapy part of their treatment this year, while the Tayside oncology team continue to deliver all other parts of the patient care and treatment, including chemotherapy, locally.

“The oncology team is determined to continue to deliver high quality cancer services in Tayside and is making positive progress towards recruitment, with a locum breast oncologist now in post.

“This is a first welcome step as the oncology department strives to deliver all breast oncology services locally, and our aim remains that all patients will be seen in Tayside in the future.

“We are encouraged that we are now able to offer radiotherapy to more breast cancer patients in Tayside due to this recent appointment, but unfortunately some patients still need to travel to specialist cancer centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

“We know that this adds additional stress to what is an already difficult time for patients and therefore we are committed to continuing to support everyone who needs to travel to ensure their pathway is as smooth as possible.”