By Lachlan Bruce

RESEARCH conducted by Cancer Research UK has shown that about 2,000 urgent cancer referrals are not taking place each week because of the NHS response to Covid-19. They have called on the Scottish Government to draw up an urgent strategy to reinstate cancer services across Scotland after many parts were paused to allow the NHS to focus on tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

As you can imagine, this change in the number of referrals is causing consternation among the medical and cancer sector. There is real concern about the negative impact the ongoing pause of cancer services and screening will have on patients’ cancer outcomes in Scotland. Because whilst cancer services may be paused, the disease is not stopping.

It has been almost a month now since NHS England announced that local health boards would be starting work to resume pre-coronavirus cancer treatment levels; that shows it is possible to keep the necessary capacity in the NHS to combat Covid-19 whilst also providing much needed cancer services. Scotland can’t be allowed to fall any further behind due to the SNP in this area. We need to see urgent action by the Scottish Government to do the same here in Scotland.

The Scottish Government should create and publish a plan on how it will deal with the current backlog of operations and treatments and make sure that everyone has access to the treatment they need before it is too late. It is well known that finding and dealing with cancer at an early stage leads to better outcomes.

For example, more than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage. Or with breast cancer, where more than 90 per cent of women diagnosed at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least five years compared to around 15 per cent for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease.

In recent years, some good progress has been made in Scotland at improving the survivability of many cancers and saved a lot of lives. That progress could be under threat due to pausing of the number of treatments and surgeries caused by Covid-19.

Anybody that has been through it themselves or had a family member suffer from cancer knows what a fight it is to beat the disease and come out the other side. Detecting it early and getting treatment early is the best way of giving people a fighting chance. That’s why I agree with Cancer Research UK and believe it’s important to see action from SNP ministers and the creation of a cancer services and research recovery plan.