Cervical screening has been restarted as the health service tries to tackle the backlog and “anxiety and confusion” from cancelled appointments during the coronavirus lockdown.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced that smear tests to detect cervical cancer will resume on June 29, with women whose appointments were cancelled told to contact their GP to try to rearrange a screening.
Smear tests were part of the health services paused from March 30 as part of attempts to restrict the spread of coronavirus and free up NHS capacity to treat patients infected with Covid-19.
From Monday, patients who had a smear test cancelled due to the pandemic will be able to contact their GP to book a new appointment, with routine screening expected to restart when the health service has managed to catch up with the backlog.
Further appointment invitations and reminders are also due to be posted from mid-July.
Ms Freeman said: “Our plans to resume the screening programmes are based on expert clinical advice and the recommendations of the Scottish Screening Committee.
“They have been discussed and agreed with health board chief executives as part of the planned safe and incremental remobilisation of NHS Scotland.
“The safety of patients and staff will continue to be our priority as the screening programmes restart and expand. I want to reassure you that we are taking these precautions so that we can safely offer the right care, at the right time, in the right place.”
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “We have seen a growing level of anxiety and confusion due to cancelled appointments, so we are pleased that access to this lifesaving test is restarting.
“Cervical screening is not always easy and many people have new questions and concerns about the test and how it all works now. We don’t want Covid-19 to make cervical screening harder, so do reach out to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust if you want support or more information before attending.”
Marion O’Neil, from Cancer Research UK, added: “People who require further investigation need to be able to get follow-up appointments as quickly as possible.
“If people have any concerning symptoms while the screening programmes are getting back on track it is essential they get in touch with their GP practice.”
Asked whether the temporary halt for screening services is likely to lead to a rise in late-stage cancer diagnosis, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “People can now get back onto schedule so the delay will be very small compared to what it would have been if we tried to carry on and people just didn’t go to their appointments because they were worried about coronavirus.”
Interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said: “It may feel a little bit different when you go along to the GP surgery in these times, your appointments might take a little bit longer, it might be a little bit more difficult to get appointments lost because of the additional safety measures which are being put in place.
“The fact that this has been a paused programme for just a period of three months, I would envisage that in these particular scenarios, we’re going to see a real rise in the number of late presentations with cancer.”