Cancer is a big issue in Scotland. Last year the disease became the nation’s biggest killer, and more than 80 people are diagnosed every day.
Our survival rates lag behind our UK and European neighbours and as a population we could still be preventing far more cancers happening in the first place. Scotland’s new Cancer Strategy needed to address this, although within a particularly tough spending environment.
Given this, this week’s headline announcement – £100m over the next term of the Scottish Parliament – is very welcome news.
Across Scotland there’s a glaring need to reduce the number of patients who need NHS treatment for conditions that could have been prevented. With this in mind, the Scottish Government would rightly point to two landmark public health measures that should make a difference for cancer: plain, standardised tobacco packing and the ongoing legal battle to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
However, big prevention issues are missing from the strategy, although there is a commitment to review Scotland’s approach to obesity. Where the majority of our population is either overweight or obese, radical new actions will be needed to counter this.
Scotland’s excellent Detect Cancer Early programme will continue to be supported. Earlier diagnosis has been a huge part of our improved survival to date, and this leading role must continue. And a £2 million per year diagnostics fund, with and additional £1m for 2,000 new endoscopes, should help ease the pressure on the country’s hugely strained diagnostic services. The commitment to a 40 per cent increase in the number of nurses supporting this service also suggests there are good intentions to make this investment work.
In her speech at the SNP conference last weekend, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans – included in the strategy – to ensure advanced radiotherapy techniques are available for all patients who would benefit, and is great news. Advanced radiotherapy is now a very advanced, powerful and precise treatment, now involved in four in ten cancer cures. Scotland already has world-class radiotherapy machinery, and the £50 million commitment to keep this up-to-date and ensure there are highly skilled professionals to operate it is also very good news.
With 50 actions listed, some noble ambitions and lots of new money, Scotland can be confident that this plan will impact on cancer survival.
The next challenge will be to make sure the clearest commitments are met, and carried out carefully and on budget. But some actions are vaguer than others and it’s important that the sentiments behind these are not lost too. Important too is the job of measuring the impact of all of this. Scotland has great potential to make use of a range of data to help this, the mission now underway is to pull it all together and gain that understanding.
This is really positive step. The challenge now is making it happen.
Gregor McNie, senior public affairs manager at Cancer Research UK. A version of this article originally appeared on the Cancer Research UK Science blog