NHS shouldn’t have to choose between cancer and Covid

The leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar, has challenged Nicola Sturgeon over the impact of Covid on cancer care within the NHS, asking her to commit that cancer services will be protected in any redeployment of care sparked by coronavirus. He has insisted that the NHS should not be made to choose between cancer and Covid. 

Sarwar says this means that screening programmes must not be paused again in the same way as they were at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Also, cancer operations should not be cancelled because of Covid pressures either.

The Scottish leader tweeted: Since the start of the pandemic, almost 30,000 of our fellow Scots have died from cancer. Every one of these deaths—just like Covid—is a tragedy.

There must be no pause to screening programmes, no cancelled cancer operations, & a genuine acceleration so we can catch up on cases.”

The challenge to Ms Sturgeon came about after the latest figure showed that the NHS is still failing to meet a key cancer waiting time target, with Mr Sarwar pointing out that this had not been achieved for “almost a decade” before the NHS had to choose between cancer and Covid. Data from Public Health Scotland showed, in the three months of July to September this year, 83.1% of patients referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer began treatment within the 62-day target time – below the 95% target set by the Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “I dearly wish I could stand here and say that somewhere we can protect the NHS generally and cancer services in particular from all of the impact of this pandemic. I can’t do that, no matter how hard we work to try. The only thing that will protect the NHS from the pandemic is getting the pandemic under control and driving these cases down.”

She also told how the Government was investing in early diagnosis by establishing new centres for this to help ensure that “there is speedy, timely treatment for cancer”.

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Written by

Claire Gordon