In June last year I told the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Cancer of my intention to pause and reflect on the progress of our 2016 cancer strategy- Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action. The very thorough report of the cross-party group in January 2019 found that the vast majority of the strategy's actions were either on track or complete. I agreed with these findings and wanted to take the opportunity to look at what work now needs to be taken forward to build on the significant progress we have made. Research and innovation is continually redefining how we work and offering new ways to improve and we must utilise and learn from these innovations. Therefore, I want us to constantly ask ourselves how our cancer services and wider efforts to tackle cancer can take the next steps of continuing improvement.
In light of current circumstances, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the increased burden placed on the NHS across Scotland. As it is now apparent, all of our government's effort is being focused on COVID-19 and how we can protect the people of Scotland. The impact of COVID-19 on people with cancer is a top priority in all our planning. Due to the nature of treatment for cancer, a large proportion of people with cancer are immunocompromised, putting them at higher risk than the general population. We have convened a national cancer treatment response group, who are providing ongoing advice and guidance around the balance of risk versus treatment as the situation continues to evolve. This guidance will be made available for the public to access. Our immediate focus will be the response to COVID-19, but this strategy refresh will be key to continue to drive forward action once the risk reduces and our NHS can return to full capacity.
This update of our cancer strategy recognises some excellent progress and successes, with Scotland leading the UK in a number of areas. However, it will also highlight areas of unmet need where we can and must do more, testing changes that could be nationally integrated as we begin developing our next full cancer strategy into next year. Potential technological advancements and innovations will be actively monitored and considered.
As well as input from the Cross-Party Group on Cancer's report in November, this update has had input from the Scottish Cancer Coalition, many individual charities, and a range of national stakeholder groups covering all aspects of cancer, from prevention through to research, convening voices from clinical, planning and service management communities. We have also drawn together various ongoing workstreams and new initiatives and considered them in the round, with patient experience at the centre. We have paid particular attention to how we can improve patient pathways through diagnosis, treatment and support, and how they are communicated with along the way. We are also giving specific consideration to those cancers that have not seen the improvements in survival that we would want, and less common cancers.
As screening programmes evolve and improve, we will consider how we manage all aspects of this patient journey, including anticipated impacts on diagnostic services. As evidence develops and technology brings more opportunities, we will continually review our screening programmes to make sure they are operating as well as possible for people. Making sure that all who may wish to take up their screening appointment do so is a continuing challenge, with significant inequalities associated with this. We will continue to test and evaluate solutions to this, scaling up those that are proven to work.
This update will set out fifty-three actions we will take forward in this latest phase of our strategic response to cancer in Scotland, including testing new and innovative approaches to ready ourselves for the subsequent phase that will be our next national cancer strategy. At the heart of this update will be a range of efforts to deliver best what matters to people with cancer- how they can have the best possible chance of good outcomes, smooth and joined up journeys through our health services, and comprehensive support throughout.
The third sector is an increasingly vital partner in our efforts and I thank the Scottish Cancer Coalition for their input to this refresh and support for developing the next strategy. We should all be hugely grateful for the commitment and impact you make for people with cancer and their loved ones. As we continue forward during these unprecedented times, I would like to thank our partners, both within health services and the third sector in tackling the immediate national priority, COVID-19. In due course, we will endeavour to achieve the actions laid out in this strategy refresh.
Jeane Freeman MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
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