Sturgeon pledges cancer initiative

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A new scheme to catch cancer early and save more than 300 lives will be launched if a Scottish National Party government is re-elected in May.

The Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for the £30 million Detect Cancer Early initiative at the SNP spring conference in Glasgow.

Ms Sturgeon said the initiative aimed to increase by a quarter the number of Scots caught in the first stage of the disease.

It will be achieved by raising cancer awareness and significantly increasing diagnostic capacity in the NHS.

The scheme will start with lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

Ms Sturgeon said the scheme was a major new front in the battle against cancer, which has included setting new treatment time targets of 31 days.  She said: “In the NHS, one of the achievements I am proud of is our success in reducing waiting times for cancer patients.

“In 2001, Labour set a target for cancer patients to start their treatment time within 62 days of being referred by their GP.  During their six remaining years in office, Labour never once met that target.

“Our government, within 18 months of taking office, did meet that target and we have never failed to meet it since.  In fact, we went further and set a new 31-day target.  We met that a year ahead of schedule.”

She went on: “Just like the rest of the UK, Scotland still lags behind other European countries in cancer survival.  That is because too many people are already in the advanced stages of the disease before they even see a doctor.”

The SNP plans to introduce it using money from the £1 billion it has already committed to the health budget over the next four years.

Ms Sturgeon made her pledge during a keynote speech in which she also promised a re-elected SNP government would bring forward minimum alcohol pricing legislation – voted down by opposition parties, though backed by police, social workers, doctors and nurses.

She outlined the consequences of alcohol abuse in Scotland: “3000 deaths a year, 40,000 hospital admissions.  Countless alcohol-related crimes in communities up and down this country.  We all pay the price.”

Defending the SNP’s decision to press ahead with minimum pricing in the face of opposition in parliament, Ms Sturgeon said it was disgraceful that Labour, a party once associated with social justice, put political advantage before the nation’s health: “Faced with the enormity of that challenge, we acted like a government should.  We put the national interest before party politics.

“It is always better to be in the driving seat of our own destiny than to be dependent on decisions taken elsewhere.

“Fairness, justice and equality – these principles are the very essence of independence and that is why we are determined to win it for our country.”

Elsewhere at the conference the education secretary Michael Russell told delegates the party would further reduce class sizes and cut by half the number of pupils being taught in “crumbling” school buildings.

He also pledged to introduce Scottish Studies across the curriculum.

He said: “We will take the idea of Scottish language, Scots language, Gaelic, we will also take the idea of Scottish literature, Scottish history, Scottish geography, Scottish culture.

“We will wrap those things up into an offering for schools called Scottish studies and we will link it to all other subjects.”

Party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond closed the conference by telling delegates: “A Scotland independent and free – that is the only vision in Scottish politics.

“Independence is about what you do with a nation’s future.  Independence will drive us on in this campaign.”