Ultrasound Scanner (60th Anniversary)

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

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Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

I congratulate Angela Constance on securing the debate and for her comprehensive and interesting speech. I also warmly welcome to the gallery all our VIP guests, and hope that they enjoy this evening’s proceedings.

The ultrasound scanner, as we have heard, is just one of many important and groundbreaking inventions by Scots over the generations—even if we do not include Stewart Stevenson’s father, who is a proud inventor. Members will be well aware of the list of inventions, including tubular steel, the telephone, radar and, of course, insulin for the treatment of diabetes, which is a cause that is close to my heart as chair of the cross-party group on diabetes.

In passing, I will take a moment to mention my campaign, in the competition that was launched by the Bank of England, to get Professor John Macleod from Aberdeen—a Scot who shared the 1923 Nobel prize with Frederick Banting for their discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921—to be the scientist who is featured on the face of the new £50 note. If members have other scientists in mind, including any who have been mentioned this evening, I suggest that they get their skates on, because the deadline is in just a few weeks. It would be fantastic if we could have a Scot featured on the new £50 note—not that it is a note that I am very familiar with, Presiding Officer.

As we have heard, ultrasound scans use sound waves with frequencies far higher than humans can hear. Those sounds echo on tissue: different tissues reflect the waves in different ways, and the echo patterns are then displayed as an image.

The use of ultrasound extends to farming. Only this morning, Emma Harper was telling me that it is used in Dumfries and Galloway to detect pregnancy in sheep. We gather bits of new information every day in this place.

Compared with other forms of medical imaging, it has the benefit of being risk free. It shows images in real time and the equipment can be portable and lower in cost that other imaging. Emma Harper also told me about the importance for first responders of mobile ultrasound scanners. That is a recent initiative that can save lives, especially in remote locations such as are in my constituency of the Highlands and Islands.

As members have mentioned, the origin of ultrasound is a war setting: during the second world war, it was used to see U-boats far under the ocean. In effect, we have moved from war to ward in a few generations.

As we have heard, Professor Ian Donald was the first to suggest the use of ultrasound for obstetrics and gynaecology. Unfortunately, the company that produced the first machine withdrew it and the technology ended up being developed elsewhere. As others have said, it is a real shame that Glasgow did not get the recognition that it deserved for being at the forefront of this invention.

The first thought in many minds when we mention ultrasound is of its use during pregnancy, which has revolutionised prebirth scans for checking the baby’s health, as well as allowing many happy parents a first sight of their child.

Ultrasound scans come in many forms, not the least of which are echocardiograms, which are vital for doctors in checking the functioning of a heart. As a risk-free and easy method, ultrasound is especially important for checking on the heart health of newborn babies and of vulnerable children.

Another area that has not been mentioned, but has recently been touched on in

The BMJ, is that ultrasound can be used for detecting, through brain scans, the type of dementia that a patient is suffering from, which is absolutely vital for their future care.

We in Scotland have always been pioneers of new invention. The Scottish enlightenment, with its outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments, might have been in the 18th and 19th centuries, but our ability to innovate has certainly not ended.

I offer my congratulations to the professors who revolutionised ultrasound, and I thank the doctors, nurses and other medical staff in our NHS who use it every day for the health of our nation.

Ultrasound is an example of diversification—a product that was used in war has become a lifesaver that is used in peace. It was a true “swords into ploughshares” moment.