World Cancer Day: Plaid call for all-Wales cancer strategy as Welsh Government invest £11m in new Gwent centre
The Welsh Government must publish an all-Wales cancer strategy to tackle the growing waiting lists for treatment and diagnosis, Plaid Cymru have said.
The call comes as the Welsh Government said that £11m is being invested in a breast cancer ‘centre of excellence’ in Gwent in a bid to improve patient care.
Today is international World Cancer Day, marked to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. Around 20,000 people a year in Wales are diagnosed with cancer and an estimated 170,000 people are living with the disease in its various forms.
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and social care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said that Wales urgently needed a long-term plan to tackle backlog and staff shortages as part of an “all-Wales cancer strategy”.
The Welsh Government needed to “prioritise early diagnosis, recognise the thousands currently undiagnosed and ensure adequate care for those patients in later stages of cancer who will need more complex treatments,” he said.
However, Eluned Morgan said that the £11m investment in Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr showed the Welsh Government was commited to improving cancer outcomes and supporting health boards to transform clinical services.
“These ambitious plans will mean patients in Gwent will have better access to high quality care and more people affected by breast cancer can be managed on a day case basis and thereby avoid a hospital admission,” she said.
“As we mark World Cancer Day, this is an opportunity to reflect on the significant impact cancer has on our society and highlight important investments that we are making to support better patient care. We will continue to give cancer services the focus they deserve as we emerge from the pandemic.”
‘Only get worse’
Plaid Cymru said that it had been two years since Wales had a Cancer Strategy – putting the country at odds with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations that every country should have one in place.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care Rhun ap Iorwerth MS added that the Covid pandemic’s impact on cancer treatment and diagnosis “has and continues to be devastating”.
“The Welsh Government must urgently introduce a plan to tackle the backlog and staff shortages created by the pandemic as part of a wider all-Wales cancer strategy to prioritise early diagnosis, recognise the thousands currently undiagnosed and ensure adequate care for those patients in later stages of cancer who will need more complex treatments,” he said.
“Now is not the time to be without a cancer strategy. Wales has amongst the worst cancer outcomes in Europe, and this will only get worse if action isn’t taken.
“In the meantime, anyone who has any worry, any symptom, should please, please make an appointment with your GP.”
The Welsh Government’s investment in Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr will bring together services and experts from across the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board to provide outpatient care, diagnostic investigations and surgery for breast cancer.
The clinical teams from Nevill Hall and Royal Gwent Hospitals will come together to provide a more resilient and effective service, in a purpose built facility, that will better meet the needs of the people of Gwent, the Welsh Government said.
It comes as the latest NHS activity and performance data shows in November activity levels in cancer services increased, with the number of patients newly diagnosed with cancer who started their first definitive treatment increasing to the highest level since comparable data was first collected in June 2019.
Furthermore, the number of patients informed they did not have cancer increased on the previous month to the second highest level since this data first started being collected in December 2020.
The Welsh Government said that the plans will improve quality and safety of care for breast service patients; provide a model of care for breast services that is sustainable and flexible to respond to future needs; maximises the use of available resources; and promote diagnosis and treatment in line with best practice.
Interim Chief Executive of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Glyn Jones, said: “We are very grateful to Welsh Government for funding this incredible new facility, which will represent another key milestone in our Clinical Futures strategy.
“With the new centre serving as a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for breast services, our specialist clinicians will be centralised in a purpose-built facility, where they will provide expert care to patients with breast cancer in one place. We look forward to seeing the construction of the facility progress over the coming months.”
Mia Rosenblatt, Associate Director of Policy, Evidence and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said the near £11m investment was “fantastic news”.
“Investments such as this are vital in helping to achieve ambitions to improve experiences and outcomes for patients,” she said.
“It is also an important opportunity to help address broader retention and recruitment issues across the cancer workforce and protect cancer services at a time where they face huge challenges in tackling the backlog of treating people coming forward with a breast cancer diagnosis.”
Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor MS for Dwyfor Meirionydd, who has long campaigned for diagnostic centres across Wales to ensure cancer patients aren’t subject to a postcode lottery, said that ensuring early diagnosis and that gaps in the workforce should be a priority in any cancer strategy.
The issue is very close to Mr ap Gwynfor’s heart after his father, Guto, was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 and has been receiving treatment throughout the pandemic.
Mr ap Gwynfor said that even before the pandemic Wales had been experiencing significant gaps in the workforce that diagnose and treat cancer which made the importance of an all-Wales cancer strategy all the more important.
“Early diagnosis is key to ending the worrying trend in cancer survival rates in Wales.
“Any cancer strategy must include long term plans to ensure early diagnosis the development of Rapid Diagnostic Centres is a welcomed development, but for us to get to grips with cancer in a meaningful way we need to plug the huge gaps in workforce.
“A priority in the strategy to treat and beat cancer must reflect how these rapid diagnostic centres are staffed, and how recruitment generally in cancer diagnosis and treatment is secured for the long term.
“Cancer doesn’t care about geography, but patients do. They deserve parity of service, wherever they live.
“Scotland and England have Cancer Strategies with a buy in from their respective Health or Commissioning Boards. This strategy gives them clear targets and ensures that they have a laser like focus. But Wales doesn’t have that comprehensive strategy, instead we have an incoherent mishmash of programmes and frameworks. If we are serious about getting to grips with Cancer then we need a Cancer strategy”.
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