Life saving screening programme launches in Western Isles

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The launch of the national Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme in the Western Isles this week went extremely well, with 100 per cent attendance from all men invited for screening.

NHS Western Isles launched the programme on November 19 (International Men’s Day) and was one of the first Health Boards in Scotland to launch the programme.

AAAs arise when the wall of the aorta – the main artery in our abdomen that supplies blood to our bodies – becomes weak and balloons out to form an aneurysm, which is a swelling and weakening of the wall of the aorta.

Most men will be unaware that they have an aneurysm as these rarely cause any pain; however a burst aneurysm leads to life threatening bleeding and can result in death.

The AAA Screening Programme aims to find aneurysms before they burst, so that people can be offered treatment to prevent this. What will be unique about the service that will be offered in the Western Isles is that screening will take place across the Isles on a mobile unit, rather than just in GP surgeries or hospitals. This will make appointments more accessible, with appointments arranged in people’s own communities.

Donald Macleod from Stornoway would urge men who are called for screening to attend their appointment, stressing that ‘it could save your life’.

Mr Macleod was screened during the initial pilot phase. An aneurysm was detected at that stage and he was screened on an ongoing basis by healthcare staff. Mr Macleod was eventually recommended for surgery, when his aneurysm had grown to a certain size and there was concern that it could rupture (burst).

“My repair was carried out successfully, though it was a big operation that took six hours,” said Mr Macleod. “I would definitely recommend that other men attend screening appointments; these aneurysms are very serious. The screening saved my life.”

Men aged 65 years will be invited to take part in AAA screening through having an ultrasound scan of their abdomen. Men aged 66 years and over can self-refer.

Most men will be told that they do not have an aneurysm and they will not require any further scans as it is very unlikely they will ever develop an aneurysm requiring treatment.

Men who are found to have small or medium sized aneurysms will be invited to have yearly or three-monthly ultrasound scans to monitor its size. Large aneurisms are not common, but can very serious and may require surgery.

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson said: “The scan is completely safe, painless and reliable and only takes around 10 minutes.

“It is estimated that one in 20 men aged 65 in Scotland have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, so it is vitally important that local men attend their appointments to either rule out the condition, to ensure they are effectively monitored, or to get treatment where this is necessary.”

More information about the Scottish AAA Screening Programme can be found at An information booklet ‘Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening Information – What you need to Know’ is available to download from this website.

Pictured are NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson; Mike Woodley, Radiographer; Emelin Collier, Head of Planning; Steve Wilson, Radiographer; and Marie Morrison, Clinical Support Officer, at the launch of the AAA Screening Service on the Mobile Health Unit.