I recently spoke in the Scottish Parliament about World Cancer Day and the impact Cancer has on not just my region in the South of Scotland but the entire country.
You can read and watch my contributions below:
I will refrain from revealing my favourite chocolate bar—
Members will probably have noticed that I have several favourites, as Anas Sarwar has pointed out.
I echo the thanks that have been given to Donald Cameron for bringing the motion before Parliament and providing members with the opportunity not only to mark the forthcoming world cancer day but to debate probably the most pressing public health issue that Scotland faces today: obesity.
Our complex and fast-moving modern world is exposing children to ever-more sophisticated commercial pressures, and changes to diet and lifestyle mean that an unhealthy lifestyle has become the default option. The consequence is that Scotland has the highest rates of obesity in the UK and among the highest rates of any OECD country. Two thirds of Scotland’s adults are classed as being overweight and, shamefully, almost a third of our children are at risk of becoming overweight.
As Anas Sarwar and Alison Johnstone highlighted, we know that there is a clear link between deprivation and obesity. A quarter of children aged four to five from the most deprived areas are at risk of being overweight, compared with about 18 per cent of children from the least deprived areas. If we want to tackle health inequalities, we need to tackle wealth inequalities.
What does the obesity crisis mean for our nation’s health? We know that obesity is linked to a number of health issues—including, as the motion states, 13 types of cancer. In fact, obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of three years, and severe obesity reduces it by eight to 10 years. It is now six years since the Scottish Government published its obesity route map and, although it provides a positive policy framework, it is clear that the route map’s action plan has not reached its milestones. Successful policy initiatives are often not scaled up to make a significant impact, and the number of interventions that focus on attitudes and behaviour significantly outweigh those that are based on regulation.
The Scottish Government’s promise to consult on a new strategy is, therefore, welcome. However, in the words of Obesity Action Scotland, it needs to be “brave and bold”. As Cancer Research UK says:
“this strategy presents a once in a generation chance to scale down cancer in Scotland”.
That means that any new strategy must ensure that the proceeds of any sugar tax are invested in after-school sports. It also means considering better regulation to tackle the fact that, as Alison Johnstone said, more than 40 per cent of food in the UK is bought on promotion—that is the highest rate in Europe—and the vast majority of that is junk food. A new obesity strategy also means ensuring that we have a comprehensive cross-governmental strategy to tackle the root causes of obesity, including inequality.
As Donald Cameron highlighted, however, not every case of ill health, including cancer, can be prevented through a change in diet and lifestyle. I will therefore touch on the importance of early diagnosis. In many cases, detecting cancer at the early stages is the intervention that is required to ensure that it can be successfully treated. For example, Cancer Research UK’s studies have shown that nine out of 10 bowel cancer patients survive for more than five years if they are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease. The debate and world cancer day provide us with an opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of regular cancer screenings and of speaking to their general practitioner should they feel that something is amiss.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the next step is to ensure the best possible treatment. For people who live in rural areas, that can often involve travelling some distance and spending time away from their loved ones.
Many patients from Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders receive radiotherapy treatment at the Western general hospital in Edinburgh. To avoid having to make the long journey to and from their home daily or taking up a bed in a medical ward, patients who are well enough to leave the ward can stay overnight at Pentland lodge, which is next to the hospital. I have spoken to many constituents who have stayed at Pentland lodge, who talk about the benefits of the invaluable peer support that they received there and how it helped them through a dark time for them and their families.
NHS Lothian is considering changing the use of Pentland lodge, which is likely to mean that patients from Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders will no longer be able to stay there when they receive treatment. I appeal to the minister and the Scottish Government to support the campaign by families in Dumfries and Galloway and ensure that Pentland lodge is retained for the use of patients who receive treatment at the Western general.
I again thank Donald Cameron for bringing his motion to the chamber for debate.