Ultrasound Scanner (60th Anniversary)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

As members know, I often speak about my own experiences and people in my family. My father, too, invented something for understanding what was going on in the womb. Being a general practitioner, he had an aluminium ear trumpet thing that he could use to listen to what was going on. His patients found it terribly cold and uncomfortable on their bellies, so my father, with his whittling knife and a bit of wood, made a wooden version of it that was much more comfortable for his patients. That was his contribution to solving that particular problem, but it hardly bears any comparison whatsoever to the deployment of electronics and ultrasound to understand what is going on in the womb.

My mother, who gave birth to me long before the establishment of the national health service, had an ectopic pregnancy before I was born and, therefore, when I was born, had only one fallopian tube. Therefore, the whole issue of the maternity services that my father gave was an important part of what he found himself doing.

In a sense, that is relatively unimportant. The more important thing is what the invention that we are discussing has contributed to safe pregnancy and to the health of women and their offspring. The sonar background came from the war, as did the radar technology—my professor of natural philosophy when I was at university was RV Jones, who is the guy who was responsible for the UK’s radar programme, which sprung from the same kind of stable.

Along with the ability to see what is going on in the womb and to gather a lot of information about a child before it is born, we are presented with some ethical problems. One of the great things about the medical profession is that we have seen the development of an ethical framework that makes sure that we use that information in an appropriate way that helps the youngsters and their mothers.

Of course, it is often the case that the ultrasound procedure reveals how many children are in the womb. Often, the little black-and-white fuzzy photographs are the first indication that members of the family have that there will be another one joining them. It is an absolutely fabulous thing. There is supposed to be an X-ray of me in my mother’s womb—given her history, that is not surprising—but, unfortunately, I have never seen it, and it will have long since gone.

It is a delight that we have with us in the public gallery today some people who are responsible for the development of ultrasound. Inventors, designers and artists are people with whom I feel a lot of sympathy, given my background. If only I had invented something that was as useful as ultrasound.

We have heard that the design of the machine was adapted to make it more friendly for the pregnant mother. That is important because we are sometimes accused of overmedicalising pregnancy. A piece of equipment that looks like a bit of engineering kit is hardly going to help the peace of mind of the mother. Therefore, designing something that looks friendly and might be the right colours, for example, is a good thing.

Of course, the technology of ultrasound is now used for many other conditions beyond pregnancy, including heart issues, which might be an area that is important to me as I gain in age, and issues affecting many of the organs of the body, so men, too, are benefiting from ultrasound.

It is simply a bit of a sadness that Glasgow did not manage to hang on to ultrasound, but we had our own stake in inventing and starting it, and I congratulate all those in the public gallery who were involved in its development. Of course, I also congratulate my colleague on bringing the debate to the chamber tonight.