We recognise the importance of timely access to diagnostics, including echocardiograms for people with heart disease. We have supported the heart failure hub to define and implement diagnostic pathways. That support includes increasing access to a test that can help to rule out heart failure in patients who might be suffering from breathlessness, which reduces the need for an echocardiogram and means that patients who need one can be seen sooner. All health boards now have access to that test.
We are in the process of refreshing the heart disease improvement plan, which we expect to publish this spring. In that plan, we will ensure that the equitable access to diagnostic tests, treatment and care for people with heart disease remains a priority.
The recent British Heart Foundation draft heart disease plan for Scotland released data, which was gathered through freedom of information requests, that showed significant variation across Scotland in access to echocardiograms. It also highlighted that the Scottish Government’s investment of £1 million since 2014 in the delivery of the current heart disease improvement plan should be seen against the £4.8 billion cost of heart disease to the national health service in Scotland over the same period. Does the First Minister agree that that equates to chronic underinvestment in heart disease prevention, and will she commit the Scottish Government to adequately investing in the prevention and treatment of heart disease?
Yes, we will continue to do that to the best of our ability. I very much welcome the publication of the British Heart Foundation’s strategy document. We will work with it as we develop the refreshed plan, making sure, as I said, that equitable access to diagnostics is a key priority as that plan is developed.
However, as I said in my initial answer, I think that it is important to recognise that there is already a real focus on prevention, which is why, as an alternative to somebody requiring an echocardiogram, the test to rule out heart failure that I talked about is so important. Prevention and early intervention—across all conditions—remain very important, so we will continue to work to ensure that accessibility is as equitable as people have a right to expect.