Detect Cancer Early Programme

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th May 2013.

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Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made with the detect cancer early programme. (S4O-02075)

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Since February 2012, there have been three phases of public awareness campaigns: a priming campaign that was aimed at tackling fears and negative attitudes about cancer; a bold breast cancer awareness campaign in September; and, more recently, a campaign to encourage uptake of bowel screening. The initial evaluation of the social marketing campaigns has been encouraging. Published data indicates that more women are reporting breast symptoms and more people are enquiring about participating in the bowel screening programme. It is too early yet to assess what impact that is having on early diagnosis.

A general practitioner contract proposal to encourage primary care to contribute to screening uptake is at an advanced stage. A refresh of the “Scottish Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer” is under way and is being led by Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

The programme’s £30 million funding is supporting increases in diagnostic, screening and treatment capacity so that the 62-day and 31-day cancer access standards are maintained. Additional capital and revenue have been made available to support an increase in colonoscopy capacity. Baseline setting and submission, analysis and reporting of staging data to monitor progress towards the programme’s aims are also well under way.

Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for that comprehensive answer.

Having had the privilege of visiting the teenage cancer unit at Gartnavel recently, I commend to the cabinet secretary a visit there to see just what a fantastic facility it is for helping our young people to fight cancer. Will he join me in applauding the important work that is being done by the Teenage Cancer Trust through schools, colleges and universities in helping to raise awareness among young people of the importance of early cancer detection so that they can discuss cancer and the benefits of early presentation with their peers and older family members in an informed way?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I do indeed applaud the Teenage Cancer Trust’s work in raising awareness of the importance of early detection of cancer. It has been shown that, as a result of the trust’s presentations in schools, awareness raising extends beyond the young people who attend the talks and benefits the wider circle of friends and family. That contributes positively to the overall aim of improving early diagnosis.

For the detect cancer early programme’s social marketing campaigns to be most effective, it is important that the target audience is reached in as many ways as possible. That is why the programme is engaging with and supporting the Teenage Cancer Trust’s education programme, which provides teenagers with the information that encourages them to give their older family members a nudge to ensure that they know the benefits of early presentation and to find out more about screening participation. Breaking down barriers and getting people to talk about cancer are important parts of the detect cancer early programme.

Photo of Drew Smith Drew Smith Labour

I welcome the measures that the cabinet secretary has outlined, but can he offer an assurance about what is happening for those patients who are awaiting secondary treatment? Although all the Government’s efforts on early detection and initial treatment are extremely important and welcome, they will not be enough if people then face further waiting periods for follow-up treatment such as radiotherapy.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We have not set specific targets for the number of days within which follow-up treatment should begin because that is very much determined by the clinical situation for each patient. However, clinical guidelines on follow-up govern the situation and, as far as we can tell—we monitor these matters fairly closely—those guidelines are being adhered to throughout Scotland.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

At the older end of the age spectrum, what progress is the detect cancer early programme making with those in the over-70 age group? As the cabinet secretary will be aware, frequently they have a higher incidence of cancer but often they do not present with symptoms or get a diagnosis until it is too late.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The evidence that we have is that the programme is having an impact on older age groups as well as on younger age groups. I am happy to send the member more detailed information on uptake among older age groups.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I congratulate the Government on the detect cancer early programme, which is an excellent initiative. However, people are approaching me—I suppose that they are approaching the cabinet secretary, too—about whether other cancers will be brought into the programme and, if so, when. In particular, people have recently asked me about cervical cancer and prostate cancer. Will those be brought into the programme in due course?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We will give further consideration to the future of the programme once we have done a proper evaluation of its impact, particularly on breast and bowel cancer. As I said, the early indications are that the programme is very effective indeed, but we must wait for the evaluation before we decide to spend additional resources to cover other types of cancer.