Under the SNP Government, the NHS in Scotland has made huge progress, especially in the detection and treatment of cancer.
When we took power in 2007, the target for starting treatment following a referral for suspected cancer was 62 days. This target was set in 2001, but, during their six remaining years in office, the Labour Lib Dem coalition never once met that target.
Indeed, at the end of 2005, with Andy Kerr as Health Minister, only 81% of women referred with suspected breast cancer were seen within 62 days, which was a drop of 5% from the previous quarter.
In 2007, the SNP committed that, by 2011, 95% of patients would be seen within the 62 day target. Under Nicola Sturgeon as Health Secretary, this target was met by the end of 2008 and has been met each quarter since then. A marked contrast with the failure of the Labour LibDem coalition. As Iain Gray himself said, in relation to housing, Labour in office was good at legislating, but failed to deliver.
In addition to meeting the targets, the SNP Government retained and enhanced children’s cancer services across Scotland and are investing an additional £32 million to improve access to specialist services for children and young people, ensuring care is better, quicker, safer and closer to home.
The SNP will also implement one-stop shop cancer diagnosis centres to bring waiting times down even further. We have already announced a new £30m initiative, Detect Cancer Early, which aims to detect 25% more cancers in the first stage. This could save more than 300 lives every year – we are starting with the three big cancers – lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
With Labour’s record of failure on cancer, compared to the solid progress under the SNP, you might think Labour politicians would be careful of raising expectations of their performance if they were to return to government. But no, in one of his most cynical appeals to voters, Andy Kerr’s election material raises huge expectations among those concerned about cancer. His campaign newspaper states:
“If your GP suspects you have cancer then you will see a specialist within two weeks – that’s a cast-iron guarantee…..”
With his experience as Health Minister, and his previous failure on tackling cancer, Andy Kerr knows that no politician can give such a ‘cast-iron guarantee’.
No politician can stop cancer specialists from taking sick, being hit by a bus, or doing any of the other things that temporarily prevents the NHS in an area from meeting its target. It is irresponsible of politicians to make claims such as this. In words that will come back to haunt him, Andy Kerr’s boss, Iain Gray, speaking on STV, said:
“It is up to politicians and governments to make promises which both they can keep and which they then go on to keep….”.
Labour has had its chance, at both Scottish and UK levels, to deliver on cancer treatment, and has failed. In this election, I would urge voters concerned about the detection and treatment of cancer to weigh up the solid delivery of the past four years against Labour’s record of failure and ‘pie in the sky’ promises for the future.
Don’t let Labour fail on cancer again.