Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon urged to protect NHS cancer services amid rise of Omicron

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to protect NHS cancer services to prevent a "catastrophe".

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said almost 30,000 Scots have died from cancer since the start of the pandemic.

He insisted: "We can’t have an NHS that chooses between treating a virus or treating cancer."

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

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Cancer screening services were suspended in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Sturgeon said this was "one of the most difficult decisions" that clinical advisers had to take.

She said cancer services had been prioritised throughout the pandemic, and screening programmes had restarted.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Sarwar said: “It is right that we remobilise our NHS to confront the virus, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that cancer remains Scotland’s biggest killer.

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“Since the start of the pandemic, almost 30,000 of our fellow Scots have died from cancer.

“Every one of these deaths – just like Covid – is a tragedy."

Mr Sarwar asked what action Ms Sturgeon was taking to prevent a "cancer catastrophe".

The First Minister said every death from cancer was a tragedy.

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She said work was ongoing to "make sure there is speedy, timeous treatment for cancer".

Ms Sturgeon added: "The NHS remains under sustained pressure and that pressure will grow in the weeks to come.

"But within the most recent quarter, more patients were treated within the 62-day waiting time standard compared to pre-Covid.

"So that is an indication that we were starting to catch up on some of the backlogs. We must keep a focus on that.

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"But if we are to protect the ability of the NHS to do that, we must absolutely bear down on the pressure that is being put on it because of Covid."

Mr Sarwar said statistics published this week show "that almost one in five of the most urgent cancer cases are not starting treatment on time".

He said: “And between July and September – just three months – 677 patients waited longer than the Government’s own target.

“But this is a problem that predates the pandemic.

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“This Government has not met its cancer treatment target for almost a decade."

He added: “We know that for bowel cancer alone, there is a backlog of over half a million screening kits.

“There is still no breast cancer screening for women over 70, and operations are being cancelled."

Mr Sarwar called for NHS cancer services to be protected, adding: “That means there must be no pause to screening programmes, genuine acceleration so we can catch up, and no cancelled cancer operations.

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“Because we can’t have an NHS that chooses between treating a virus or treating cancer."

Ms Sturgeon said: "I dearly wish I could stand here and say that we can somehow protect the NHS generally, and cancer services in particular, from all of the impact of this pandemic.

"I can't do that, no matter how hard we work to try.

"The only thing that will protect the NHS from the pandemic is getting the pandemic under control and driving these cases down."

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