Wales needs a cancer plan

Veronica German, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokeswoman, explains why Wales needs a comprehensive cancer strategy.

Article written for the Western Mail.

CANCER is a disease that affects everyone.

With more than one in three people likely to develop cancer at some point in their lives we all likely to be touched by it.

It is essential we have a cancer strategy in Wales able to cope with this life-altering disease. A recent report, published by Cancer Research UK, said we in Wales aren’t getting the cancer service we need.

The report analysed cancer strategies across the UK between 2006 and 2010. It found that Wales was seriously lacking compared to England, stating: “A more comprehensive plan should be developed to ensure consistent delivery, implementation and integration across Wales.”

When Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams asked First Minister Carwyn Jones if he planned to follow this advice, he failed to provide a satisfactory answer.

We are again falling behind England because of inaction by the Assembly Government. One example of this is in the provision of intensity modulated radiotherapy This allows tumours to be treated very accurately, which is particularly important in the pelvic area and in head and neck cancers where there are a number of organs and structures that could be easily damaged.

In England this treatment has been available for five years and 42% of cancer patients are receiving it. But in Wales only two patients a month with head, neck and prostate cancer are receiving this form of radiotherapy.

In England, the UK government has just committed £60m over four years to introduce new state-of-the-art screening programme for bowel cancer, different to the test currently available. Wales has a higher incidence of bowel cancer than England – in fact we have higher levels of male cancers than any other part of the UK and our survival rates in Wales are well below the European average.

We have heard nothing from the Labour-Plaid Government about establishing a similarly new bowel cancer screening programme here.

The Cancer Research UK report is proof that we need to establish a fully-inclusive, patient-centred, contemporary cancer strategy.

I would like to see a cancer strategy that is truly holistic and an all-encompassing service that is focused on the patient and their family from diagnosis, treatment through to aftercare and remission.

We need a service that doesn’t stop when the treatment stops. People are at their most vulnerable – both physically and mentally – when they are suffering from an illness such as cancer; it simply isn’t good enough to treat the body without treating the mind.

We need a service that addresses a patient’s psychological and emotional needs as well.

A Welsh cancer strategy must also offer practical advice on issues that often get ignored, such as financial issues.

Furthermore it needs to provide services for families – such as counselling and advice – to help them cope when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support already offers a holistic service. In August the charity launched a ground-breaking counselling service for people whose relationships have been affected by a cancer diagnosis.

It is a first in Wales, and only the second of its kind in the UK, and offers free help to individuals, couples and families who have been affected by a cancer diagnosis.

I would love to see a cancer strategy that, like Macmillan, offers a holistic service.

But the sad reality is that before we can even begin to think of what we want, we have to think about what we need.

First and foremost we need a strategy that delivers the best treatments possible for the people of Wales.

The Labour-Plaid Assembly Government needs to act now and give us a cancer strategy that at least puts us on an even footing with those in England.

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