Scottish government unveils cancer plan

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Scottish government has unveiled a new action plan which aims to build on the improvements already made in cancer services over recent years.

The new cancer plan, entitled 'Better Cancer Care', aims to dramatically reduce the number of cancer deaths in Scotland, which currently has one of Europe's lowest cancer survival rates.

Included in the plan are new targets for treatment waiting times. By 2011, all patients diagnosed with cancer will receive treatment within 31 days, and the existing 62 day urgent referral to treatment target will be extended to include those patients whose cancer is picked up by the national screening programmes.

The screening programmes themselves will be improved, with 'two view' breast screening set to be made available throughout Scotland by April 2010.

There will also be a new focus on improving the lives of people living with cancer as well as £500,000 worth of additional funding for Macmillan Cancer Support, which provides a network of benefits advice services.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said that it is "essential" to have the right services in place when patients and their families need them, as cancer will affect the majority of people - either directly or indirectly - at some stage.

"The new measures announced today are deliberately designed to relieve the anxiety that accompanies a cancer diagnosis," she said.

"This includes improved access to treatment through the new waiting times targets, our commitment to working with the voluntary sector to improve all aspects of cancer patients' care."

Ms Sturgeon emphasised the importance of taking action at the earliest opportunity after diagnosis and noted that Scotland's outlook "needs to challenge cancer in a way which maximises the opportunities to enhance the lives of patients".

She concluded: "Together with NHS Scotland, the voluntary sector and other organisations, patients and their representatives, we are determined to meet these challenges together."

The plan is the outcome of a series of research projects and has also been shaped by members of the public who attended events around Scotland aimed at obtaining a wide range of views.

However, Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Harry Burns, noted that the action plan cannot be effective without individuals taking steps to reduce their own risk of cancer.

He said: "While treatment is getting better, it is really important that we all do what we can to reduce the need for treatment. There's a lot we can do to prevent cancer through stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, eating healthily and taking more exercise.

"The measures in this new action plan will help to deliver real improvements for those diagnosed with cancer, but I am in no doubt that each and every one of us can take action ourselves to prevent putting ourselves at greater risk."

Richard Davidson, Cancer Research UK's director of public affairs, said: "We welcome the publication of this action plan that shows a real commitment to improving cancer services across Scotland. We're pleased to see the pledges to continue to reduce smoking rates, to reducing the waiting times for cancer treatment to 31 days, continued commitment to screening services and to improving access to treatments including radiotherapy and new medicines.

"We also welcome the clear focus on boosting patient recruitment onto clinical trials and on new research, including the work that we're involved with to develop Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres across Scotland.

"But there is an increasing inequalities gap that is a major concern - the poorest members of Scottish society are both most likely to develop and die from cancer. This needs to be tackled urgently. We now wait to see the details of the specific investment needed to implement the plan."