I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by cancer and I pay tribute to cancer charities for their tireless efforts in funding research, developing policy and providing support to patients and their families.
Improving early diagnosis must be a key priority for the both the UK and the Scottish Governments – key to this will be increasing the number of diagnosticians, improving public awareness and screening programmes and ensuring that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.
As you may be aware, health is a devolved matter in Scotland and in 2016, the Scottish Government introduced its cancer strategy, “Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action”. While I welcome many of the initiatives included in this strategy, I would like to see better performance on cancer waiting times and improvement in screening and diagnosis. I believe too little is being done to address the general underlying issues of public health and health inequalities, both of which are directly linked to cancer.
I am also concerned that the Scottish Government is currently reviewing cancer waiting times standards in Scotland. I fear this could lead to the abolition of standard cancer waiting times. Cancer should be a national priority but I am very concerned that NHS Scotland continues to miss key cancer waiting times and believe that the Scottish Government is failing patients, families and staff.
More recently, it has been reported that the legal guarantee for NHS patients to be treated within 12 weeks was missed for more than 16,000 patients in Scotland in the first three months of the year. I believe patients deserve transparency when it comes to their treatment. Long and unknown waits can have a negative impact on a person’s work, family life and mental and physical well-being. That is why I commend the efforts of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament for securing a commitment from the Scottish Government that patients will get an accurate expected waiting time for their treatment. I would like to see this in place as soon as possible.
I will continue to press for more to be done in Scotland and across the UK to support earlier diagnosis and to improve treatment and support for people living with cancer.