1. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to recent reports that treatment for ovarian cancer is a postcode lottery and has left some women with no option but to pay for private healthcare. (S6T-01555)
Cancer quality performance indicator data that was published in May covering patients treated between October 2018 and September 2020 showed apparent variation in survival rates. Regional cancer networks have undertaken improvement work to reduce ovarian cancer surgery waits. The Scottish Government continues to monitor those activities and support progress in improving overall care for ovarian cancer patients.
The national health service continues to prioritise cancer care, and when there is an urgent suspicion of cancer, every effort is made to ensure that a patient is seen quickly, with median waiting times to treatment for those on our urgent pathways being four days.
I thank the minister for that answer, but I am dismayed to read the reports in the
Sunday Post that clearly detail a two-tiered health system in which the wealthy can afford treatment and even those on average incomes have little choice but to spend most of their savings on surgery to keep them alive. If someone is poor, it seems as though their option is to hope against hope that they get surgery on the NHS before it is too late.
As we know, ovarian cancer is often detected very late and receiving treatment in a timely manner is imperative if patients are to have positive outcomes. Will the minister detail how that situation has come to pass, and what the Government will be doing for women who have had to spend so much money simply to save their own lives?
I read the same article that Carol Mochan referenced, and I absolutely understand the concern that is being caused. We have met clinical leads to understand current practice and how we can continue to improve outcomes. Improvement work has already started. The Scottish ovarian cancer clinic network has set out immediate and short-term actions, including increasing theatre capacity and mutual support between health boards.
It has been two years since the women’s health plan was announced in an effort to tackle health inequality, but I put it to the minister that there has rarely been a time since the foundation of the NHS when it has been so dangerous to be a woman who is not well off in Scotland. Depending on where people live, the situation could be even worse. What immediate and urgent action will the Government take to stop the postcode lottery and restore confidence to people who are waiting for life-saving interventions?
As I outlined, we are doing immediate work with health boards. We should remember that the women’s health plan is the first of its kind across the four nations of the United Kingdom. The start of the process was about creating the conditions for change and developing a sound foundation for ensuring that women’s health needs will be considered in all future Government and NHS Scotland policies.
It is clear that the plan focuses on a specific set of objectives and priorities, which are based on evidence of inequalities and the improvements that women have told us are needed. I accept and recognise that ovarian cancer is not specifically mentioned in the current iteration of the plan. Future aims and priorities will be developed in collaboration with women and girls.
The Scottish Government has committed to providing health boards with £10.5 million by 2027 to improve the capacity of and access to systemic anti-cancer therapy. Last month, we published the monitoring and evaluation framework for the cancer strategy, which includes a commitment to evaluating the impact of our policy outcomes on health inequalities through the analysis of disaggregated and intersectional equality data whenever that is feasible. As I said, we are working with the Scottish cancer network to implement a national plan that will ensure that capacity and demand are aligned and that we establish a sustainable service model across Scotland.