Kezia Dugdale: We can’t let cancer turn into deprivation disease

Julie Roberts  is launching a campaign about to raise awareness.
Julie Roberts is launching a campaign about to raise awareness.
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After a great opening victory at Falkirk last weekend, Hibs will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Tuesday night’s League Cup loss when they turn attention to their big opening home league match of the season against the newly promoted Dunfermline on Saturday.

These are special days for many Hibbies, their first trips to Easter Road since seeing their team end the 114-year wait to become Scottish Cup Champions back in May.

Kezia Dugdale.  Picture Ian Rutherford

Kezia Dugdale. Picture Ian Rutherford

But Tuesday night was also be a big day for Julie Roberts for a different reason; she took a seat in Easter Road’s Upper West Stand. The seat is special as it belonged to her Hibs-mad father for decades before his recent passing after suffering from mesothelioma, a form of cancer closely associated with exposure to asbestos. Julie also lost her uncle to the same disease just six weeks earlier.

I hadn’t heard of mesothelioma before I met Julie and heard her #LifeWithHibs story. But the more I did hear, the more I wanted to help.

More than 2500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK each year. Its link to asbestos means it has left certain demographics more susceptible to the disease, such as those in many working-class communities who worked in the construction and manufacturing industry during the 1970s and 1980s.

Thankfully we saw the use of different types of asbestos being banned in the UK throughout the 1980s, with white asbestos finally being banned in 1999. But that came too late for too many people.

A recent study showed that risks are particularly high for metal plate workers, mainly in shipbuilding and carpenters, and the risk is higher in people exposed to asbestos before the age of 30.

This study estimated that 1 out of 17 British men born in the 1940s and employed in carpentry for more than ten years before the age of 30 would go on to develop mesothelioma. People who worked as plumbers or mechanics also have an increased risk.

There have even been tragic cases of wives and partners dying by breathing in the asbestos fibres after washing their spouse’s work overalls for a number of years.

Back in March, the Scottish Government published their £100 million new cancer strategy. After hearing Julie’s story I went back through it and was disappointed to not find the word “mesothelioma” in it once. This is a cancer that is only going to become more prevalent in the coming years, peaking in 2020, and we must have a plan to tackle it.

That is why I have written to the Health Secretary Shona Robison to find out what exactly the Scottish Government is currently doing on this issue.

We know from research that the poorest people in Scotland are 68 per cent more likely to die from cancer than our country’s richest. We cannot live in a country where there is a direct correlation between the likelihood of someone getting, and then surviving, cancer and how much money they have.

The Scottish Government must do more and be willing to try new things to make these changes happen.

I’m willing to work alongside the Health Secretary and cancer charities so we can make sure we fight diseases like mesothelioma and ensure that cancer does not become a deprivation disease in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is an MSP for the Lothians and leader of the Scottish Labour Party