First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wants to see breast cancer services have a “long-term future” in Dundee, following concerns they are “in jeopardy”.
Ms Sturgeon has been urged to step in and secure the future of breast cancer treatment in Dundee after the chief executive of NHS Tayside said he cannot guarantee local services will continue.
Speaking during FMQs on Thursday, north-east MSP Jenny Marra asked Ms Sturgeon if she would commit to the long-term future of breast cancer services in Dundee.
It comes after an appearance by NHS Tayside health chief Grant Archibald, who told MSPs on Holyrood’s public audit committee he is unable to make long-term promises about care in the region, following the departure of several individuals from the health board’s oncology team.
Services are currently being supported by a consultant oncologist from NHS Grampian, who has been seeing all new neo-adjuvant breast cancer chemotherapy patients in Tayside since September 2020 in order to “cover vacancies”.
Sturgeon ‘to look into this’
In response to Ms Marra, Ms Sturgeon said she did not think it would be “acceptable or appropriate for women in Tayside to have to travel long distances for essential breast cancer support and care”.
She added: “I certainly want to see breast cancer services have a long-term future in Dundee; that, I’m sure, everyone in Dundee wants to see.
“I’m very happy to look into this in more detail in terms of the reasons behind the statement from the NHS Tayside chief executive and understand the basis for those and reply to the member in more detail.”
Ms Marra said she fears women in the region will not travel to Edinburgh or Aberdeen for breast cancer treatment and will “go untreated” if they cannot access services in Dundee.
Now women in Dundee may not get the cancer treatment that they need.”
Jenny Marra, north-east MSP
NHS Tayside’s oncology team was thrown into turmoil in early 2019 after it emerged that around 200 patients were given lower-than-standard doses of chemotherapy drugs in a bid to reduce harmful side effects.
A Scottish Government-commissioned review said the treatment resulted in a 1-2% increased risk of their cancer recurring but a series of investigations by us revealed one of the experts behind the claim later privately admitted it was “flawed, probably, but the best that could be done, really”.
Ms Marra, who is convener of the public audit committee, said: “The demise of this service started with a prescribing query then a ream of government whitewash reports taking the official line despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
“Now women in Dundee may not get the cancer treatment that they need.”
Mr Archibald told MSPs the board’s wish would be to “provide local services for local women” but added he could not give that guarantee “if the staffing is not available”.
Monitoring the situation
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “Providing safe and effective services for all patients will always be the priority for NHS Tayside.
“To do this, we must have the specialist staff in place to run services. NHS Tayside is fortunate to be part of the North Cancer Alliance, which connects all the boards in the north of Scotland and provides a regional network to ensure patients across the area have access to cancer services.
“This type of network is invaluable, especially in more specialist areas.
“To cover current vacancies in our local oncology team, a consultant oncologist from NHS Grampian has been seeing all new neo-adjuvant breast cancer chemotherapy patients in Tayside since September 2020.
“The consultant takes part in the local multi-disciplinary meeting and sees around three patients per week.
“Our clinical leadership team is continuing to monitor the situation closely.”