Voluntary Health Scotland has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its draft vision, aims and priority areas for the cancer strategy.
Many of our members have a specific focus on cancer support and research alongside other members with a more general interest in preventing poor health outcomes and inequalities. There are significant inequalities in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support which vary across different cancers and communities. The Scottish Government’s long-term monitoring of health inequalities provides good data on the gap between the most and least deprived areas in terms of cancer. What is less well documented is how different ethnic minority groups, people experiencing homelessness, people with alcohol and drug dependency issues, gypsy traveller communities and other marginalised communities experience cancer support services. This is something we hope will be explored further to fully understand the health inequalities that exist in cancer care and outcomes.
Our response also calls for a shift in the current proposals in relation to prevention, at present the strategy bases prevention on risk factors for cancer that can be modified at the population level and at the individual level. We believe there is a role for encouraging people to make healthier choices. However, this must be coupled with removing barriers to good health. Prevention in health policy needs to be far more ambitious and all encompassing. It should consider access to good food, opportunities for exercise and active travel alongside accessible services to aid prevention.
There needs to be a significant shift in the narrative from blaming individuals for poor life-style choices, which is stigmatising, and instead enabling people to live healthier lives regardless of income, race, gender or background. The NCD Prevention Coalition Scotland report highlighted that while “interventions focused on individual action can work in certain circumstances, it has been shown that they are less effective amongst those with low health literacy and within more deprived groups, sometimes exacerbating inequalities in the health of Scotland’s communities.”
In terms of access to services our response makes the case for assertive outreach and proportionate universalism to reach communities currently underserved or missing in health. It also highlights the barriers some people face when engaging with services in terms of communication, travel and accessibility.
You can read our full response here: VHS Consultation Response Cancer Strategy
For more information please contact Kimberley Somerside, Policy & Engagement Lead.