Elderly Scots denied breast cancer checks due to old age amid NHS backlog

A worried Scot has been told she can no longer get lumps in her breasts checked because she is too old.

Since Covid the Scottish Government have introduced restrictions on the age women are allowed to self refer which means Morven Cumming, 74, has to live in fear the lumps she has in both breasts will turn cancerous and not be able to get early treatment.

When she was in her 30s and her son, Richard, was just a toddler she discovered several lumps in both breasts.

Morven said: “I was in the shower and found discoloured lumps. My first thought was ‘I have cancer. I’m going to die. My son will be left without his mum’.”

However, a consultant at Paisley’s Royal Alexandra Hospital was able to reassure her they were fibrocystic lumps – a benign condition.

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But he told her she needed to get them checked regularly throughout her life.

She has religiously followed these instructions, having mammograms every three years.

Fibrocystic lumps do not increase the chances of getting breast cancer but they do make it difficult to detect any other changes in breast tissue which could be cancerous.

While women between the ages of 50 and 70 receive mammograms as part of a national screening programme every three years, women over that age can continue to self refer.

But despite her best efforts she has been turned away several times and told she can no longer be tested.

Morven said: “I have phoned three times to make an appointment but I have been told the Scottish Government have introduced a cut-off point of 71.

“One of the managers told me her staff had received numerous angry calls about it.

“There is a mobile breast screening unit in Paisley at the moment so I went down there. I spoke to a nurse and she gave me the same story and said the Scottish Parliament had made the decsion and there was nothing they could do about it.

“One of the nurses was quite snippy with me and another one came out and more or less told me to go away.

“The Scottish Government has taken these decisions and obviously thought no-one in my generation would complain. But they forget we are baby boomers, there are a lot of us.

“I get that hospitals are choc-a-block just now but i still have lumps and they still need to be checked.

“My sister is in her 80s and she has had cancer and she can’t get an appointment either.

“A friend of mine said it was like being in the film Logan’s Run – they want people of our age to disappear. They want us to die.”

Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has asked the Scottish Government what date self-referral for over-70s will resume.

The government’s women’s health minister Maree Todd said it would “resume once capacity in all screening centres returns to pre-Covid or close to pre-Covid levels”.

But she admitted that it would not re-start until “all screening centres are able to offer those aged 53-70 their breast screening appointments within 39 months of their previous screening” – suggesting some people on the regular screening programme may not be seen for more than three years after their due date and that waiting times are currently even longer.

This means older people will have a lengthy, anxious wait for their mammograms.

Last night Baillie said: “It is concerning that women are being forced to wait such a long period of time to be screened for breast cancer but it is simply unacceptable that the programme has been paused entirely for women over 70 years old.

“I have been contacted by a woman in her 70s who had breast cancer, which was picked up through voluntary screening. She would have probably not survived cancer without the voluntary screening programme.

“We know that you have the best chance of survival with breast cancer when it is caught and treated as early as possible.

“The Scottish Government must get a grip and urgently address the backlog and restart screening for the over 70s as well.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed the option for women over the age of 71 had been paused “in line with expert clinical advice and the recommendations of the Scottish Screening Committee”.

She stated: “This is a temporary measure that is kept under regular review and will restart as soon as capacity allows.

“Anyone, of whatever age, who is concerned about any of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer should not wait for a screening appointment but should contact their GP straight away so they can be checked.”

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