Nicola Sturgeon admitted cancer screening services must be restored quickly after hearing concerns women in rural areas face longer waits of up to six years between checks.
Self-referral was paused because of the pandemic but services started to reopen last August.
Women between 50 and 70 get invites once every three years, while over 71s can self-refer at a local centre. There are six centres on the mainland including Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur raised the potential impact on health at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, telling Ms Sturgeon: “This is giving rise to concerns among those affected in all parts of the country, but particularly in places like Orkney that rely on mobile screening units visiting once every three years.
“As one constituent put it to me earlier this week – for many of us this will mean a wait of another three years, making six years in total without receiving a mammogram.”
‘It has to be done safely’
Ms Sturgeon said breast screening has resumed but numbers are still lower than normal.
She said: “We need to make sure the service for everybody gets back to normal as quickly as possible. But it has to be done safely.”
Since the restart, 120,000 women attended for screening. It compares with around 135,000 before the pandemic struck.
Former health secretary Jeane Freeman announced services would be reopened last summer.
At the time she said: “Pausing the adult national screening programmes was one of a series of difficult decisions we have had to make in responding to the impact of Covid-19.
“The safety of patients and staff will continue to be our priority as all of the national 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.”