WARNINGS have been sounded that cancer screenings being halted to allow the NHS to focus on fighting Covid-19 “will lead to deaths over the next few years”.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said it was still too early to unpause Scotland's screening programme.

Sir Ian Diamond, the UK's chief statistician, has urged caution that as well as those directly killed by the pandemic and indirect deaths, that “a third group” will emerge “over the next few years”.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, he said it was “important to recognise that there are indirect deaths as well as Covid-related deaths”.

He added: “Changes in prioritisation of the health service, for example reductions in cancer screening, will lead to deaths over the next few years.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Sturgeon under pressure over elective and cancer care as Covid ICU admissions fall to new low

“If we have a lengthy and deep recession, then we know that that can lead to increased deaths as people are pushed into lengthy periods of unemployment.

“Absolutely certainly, the indirect deaths that come on top of the actual Covid-19 deaths are not insignificant.”

Sir Ian was pressed about a higher proportion of people from poorer households who are dying from Covid-19.

He said: “It’s likely to do with density of population, it is likely also to be with comorbidity, also people in poorer areas are probably going to be in jobs that make them less likely to be able to work from home - they may be more exposed.

“Inner cities are the most risky places. Having said that, these numbers are stark.

“We’ve known for a very long time that ill health and mortality has a gradient towards the poorest and most disadvantaged numbers of our society. It is sad that has shown clearly also with regard to Covid-19.”

Ms Freeman said: "It is too early to assert that hospital numbers are stabilising. "The numbers that we are seeing is encouraging but we are not yet in a place where we can confidently assert that in terms of the numbers of cases coming through that we are stabilising that low number that the NHS can cope with them."

She added: "We need to see those numbers coming through for a little while longer before we're in that place.

"We are very conscious of the importance of our screening programmes - we have seen the great value of them to individuals, as well as to our National Health Service. Pausing them in any respect was a decision that was taken very reluctantly indeed."