Comment: We must never have to face this choice

Macmillans hard hitting campaign is not quite what it seems but succeeds in getting its message across to the public. Picture: contributed
Macmillans hard hitting campaign is not quite what it seems but succeeds in getting its message across to the public. Picture: contributed
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COPING with cancer should not be a lottery and new campaign aims to put care planning at the heart of policy says Michelle Gallacher

Three people urgently need help coping with the consequences of cancer and its treatments.

You can only give support to one. Who would you choose?

This is the choice the Scottish public are being asked to make in a hard-hitting social media campaign by Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland.

Launched on Macmillan Scotland’s Facebook page, the “Vote For Support” campaign shows a young mother, a middle-aged dad and an older man who all desperately need help after being diagnosed with cancer.

The public are asked to watch video pleas from the three explaining why they need help. They are then asked to cast their vote for who they think should get support, even though it’s clear that all three desperately need it.

Mum Rosie is struggling to cope emotionally and doesn’t want to burden her family.

Dad-of-two Tommy had to work during chemotherapy and is back full time just weeks after treatment, feeling exhausted but unable to afford to take time off.

Pensioner Brian has no family and needs help looking after himself at home after treatment for bowel cancer.

Thankfully the vote isn’t what it seems.

Anyone who tries to vote is taken to a webpage that explains what the campaign is really about – fixing a struggling system that leaves thousands of people with cancer coping alone.

Our campaign asks the public to e-mail their Scottish Parliament election candidates and ask them, should they get into power after 5 May, to ensure every cancer patient is offered a full assessment of all their needs and directed to the right support services.

Taking such a hard-hitting approach to campaigning is new for us. But we felt we had to do it.

Right now many people with cancer aren’t offered an assessment of their needs and as a result miss out on vital support.

Unfortunately better co-ordination of care isn’t the most exciting of campaign aims and doesn’t tend to galvanise public opinion.

But for the people who fall through the gaps, lack of co-ordination can mean coping alone with the kinds of emotional, financial and practical problems faced by Rosie, Tommy and Brian.

The truth is that right now whether or not a person gets support is often down to luck.

Do they spot the right leaflet? Do they bump into someone else with cancer who tells about help they had?

Do they live in Glasgow, currently the only council area in Scotland where, thanks to investment from Macmillan, every single person with cancer is offered a needs assessment and care plan?

It’s not the fault of the amazing staff in the NHS. They do a fantastic job and always go the extra mile to help.

But not even the best and most dedicated nurse can compensate for a system that just isn’t set up to help the ever-increasing numbers of people coping with the consequences of cancer.

Getting the right support during and after cancer can be the difference between sinking and swimming. Between getting life back on track and struggling to keep going at all. Between getting better and ending up back in A&E because the overwhelming fatigue means making meals or leaving the house to pick up prescriptions is just too hard.

The cancer plan published by the last government promises a needs assessment and care plan for everyone with cancer.

This is fantastic. However, we know that a plan on paper doesn’t always lead to rapid change, especially when there are so many other competing priorities.

That’s why we’re asking all those standing for election on 5 May to pledge that if they get into power, improving cancer support will be an urgent priority for them and their parties.

We know the Scottish public agree with us. The reaction to our campaign has overwhelmingly shown Scots are outraged at the idea of anyone with cancer missing out on vital support. Thousands of people have e-mailed their election candidates, shared our campaign online or expressed their support for our goals.

The Scottish public don’t want anyone with cancer to face it alone. We hope the political parties are listening.

• Michelle Gallacher is communications manager – Scotland for Macmillan Cancer Support