Ultrasound Scanner (60th Anniversary)

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

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Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am delighted to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. I congratulate Angela Constance on securing the debate and on an excellent opening speech.

The motion is on the 60th anniversary of ultrasound—a technology that, as we have heard, was pioneered here in Scotland through the remarkable work of the late Professor Ian Donald, Professor Dugald Cameron and others.

Ultrasound has revolutionised the care of women during pregnancy in Scotland and is now a firmly established part of routine care. It is usually performed when a woman first attends an antenatal clinic and again at 18 to 22 weeks. Although women often perceive the scan appointment as exciting and an opportunity to see their baby for the first time, the role of the ultrasound has moved from being a simple confirmation of a single or multiple pregnancy in the right place to a complex diagnostic tool that is able—as we have heard—to screen for a number of conditions without increasing the risk to mother or baby. In combination with Doppler technology, ultrasound is now able to better assess the wellbeing of the baby by assessing the blood flow through the placenta. That has enabled obstetricians to pick up more accurately when a baby needs to be born early, thus improving outcomes for babies in Scotland. I recall, with my first pregnancy, the reassurances that I was given in late pregnancy as a result of the use of ultrasound.

Ultrasound is often thought of only in relation to pregnancy, but it has a much wider application across all aspects of medicine, from supplemental breast screening to cardiology and gastroenterology.

It is safe to say that the technology has changed our approach to the health and wellbeing of women across the globe. It is hugely important: it provides women with reassurance and can allay their concerns at various points in their pregnancy by helping to detect anomalies at an early stage and, thereafter, by assessing the on-going situation of the unborn baby.

As I said, ultrasound has a much wider application in medicine, and will continue to increase in scope as the technology to transmit images on smaller devices becomes more freely available. That offers scope to expand its use throughout our remote communities.

As members have heard, ultrasound was developed as a diagnostic tool more than 60 years ago as the result of a collaboration involving experts in clinical obstetrics, engineering and industrial design. Together, Professor Donald, Dr MacVicar, Tom Brown, Professor Cameron and John Fleming created the first prototypes and production models of ultrasound scanners for obstetric scanning in hospitals.

I highlight a slightly overlooked part of the story, which is the role of Rottenrow. The famous maternity unit has made Glasgow synonymous with major developments in obstetrics, including Professor Donald’s development of ultrasound scanning. I understand that, in one of its earliest incarnations, the early ultrasound scanner was wheeled around the corridors of the maternity unit at Rottenrow by a fellow pioneer called Dr James Willocks. My mother was a midwife there in the early 60s. She worked with Professor Donald and remembers him well. She received a silver pen for winning the anaesthetic prize, at the time of the early use of Entonox.

The collaboration between Donald, MacVicar, Brown and Cameron was the productive fusion of academic endeavour and innovative practical design. It is fitting that we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of ultrasound in the same year in which we have witnessed the opening of the V&A Dundee, which, as well as showcasing and encouraging contemporary design, celebrates Scotland’s design heritage and everything that has been done in that field by Scots at home and across the world. Although the curatorial independence of museums means that the Government cannot tell them what to exhibit, I will draw the attention of our museums across Scotland to this debate and story

Design is the application of creativity; it is a way to understand the world and how to change it for the better. It is about form, function, problem solving and innovation. In the history of the early development of the ultrasound scanner, it is clear how academic innovation and design creativity combined to help to change the world for the better. I was pleased to note that the importance of ultrasound has been widely recognised. The media’s considered and welcome recognition and coverage of the 60th anniversary has included excellent broadcasts on Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme and BBC Scotland.

It is right that we acknowledge and celebrate the pioneering work that led to the development of modern ultrasound technology, and I am glad that the motion refers to how Scotland’s museums can help to promote this inspiring story. I am happy to report that the first commercially produced ultrasound scanner, which was based on the prototype machine called the Diasonograph—I am sure that we will get the correct pronunciation of that at the end of the debate—can be found in the National Museum of Scotland, where it is on display in the Scotland: a changing nation gallery. The original prototype ultrasound machine is on display separately in the Hunterian museum in its permanent exhibition “A Healing Passion”. I encourage members to visit those museums to look at the machines that have helped to change the lives of so many women.

In addition to the ultrasound machines, material that relates to Tom Brown’s work on the scanner has been donated by his family to Glasgow city archive. The British Medical Ultrasound Society holds a historical collection that is based in Glasgow, and historical documents relating to the history of the ultrasound are held in the archives of the Mitchell library in Glasgow, with items from its collection on display at the Queen Margaret hospital. The heritage of this remarkable story from Scotland’s medical and design history is being collected, preserved and made available for the public to see. It is from those acts of collection and preservation that the public can continue to celebrate and appreciate this remarkable story.

The ultrasound scanner is now a standard feature in hospitals wards, where scanning technology has made pregnancy safer, and it has allowed for more accurate detection and treatment of fetal abnormality. In short, it has become an indispensable non-invasive diagnostic tool. Scotland can be proud of the extraordinary legacy of the ultrasound scanner, which has done so much for the health and wellbeing of women and unborn children throughout the world. That legacy inspires us today, and I am sure that it will continue to inspire generations to come. To Professor Dugald Cameron, who is in the public gallery, I say on behalf of the Parliament and the people of Scotland that we salute you and all your colleagues. You have not just changed the face of Scotland; you have changed the world.