2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is planning to address the backlog in cervical screening appointments that has arisen because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and whether this will include offering human papillomavirus self-testing. (S5O-05147)
The Scottish Government has provided just under £1 million to support capacity in sample taking and colposcopy. The impacts of Covid-19, including the need for additional infection control measures, continue to present challenges, but those are kept under close review. There are no current plans to issue self-testing kits as part of the programme’s recovery. Although it continues to gather evidence, the United Kingdom National Screening Committee has not yet recommended that self-sampling should be incorporated into the national programme. A pilot study is under way in NHS Dumfries and Galloway and a more extensive pilot is currently being scoped.
The minister will know that there is a reported backlog of six months in the screening programme. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has called for a roll-out of self-testing. Screening rates are lowest among young women and in the most deprived areas. I urge the Government to push forward with a wider roll-out of self-testing, at least for those groups. I recognise the pilot that is taking pace in Dumfries and Galloway and welcome the scoping for further pilots. However, given the current circumstances and the continuing lockdown, I hope to see faster progress in using self-testing kits to increase the number of women taking part in the programme.
I understand why the member asks for faster progress. It is vital that we base our decisions on the best clinical advice that is available. Our advice is based on that of the UK National Screening Committee, which has not yet advised the use of self-testing. The pilot is important. As I said, we will scope out a further research project. That could be an important piece of work, but we must make ensure that research takes place and that we learn any potential lessons before taking further clinical advice to decide whether we should roll out self-testing.