Scotland's postcode lottery for cancer care - Alex Cole-Hamilton

Cancer took the lives of both Ed Davey’s parents before he sat his first high school exams. He was too little to remember his father’s fight with Hodgkin Lymphoma, but he remembers his mum’s grief when he passed away when Ed was just four.
Cancer took the lives of both Ed Davey's parents while he was still very youngCancer took the lives of both Ed Davey's parents while he was still very young
Cancer took the lives of both Ed Davey's parents while he was still very young

He also remembers her efforts to provide a loving and happy home as a single parent with three small boys. When he was nine, cancer came for his mum as well.

It started with a lump in her breast. She had treatment, including a mastectomy but three years later, they found a secondary tumour – metastatic cancer – in her bones and they told her it was incurable. She battled it for three years. For her boys. For the last 18 months of her life she was bed ridden and for Ed, caring for mum became his life. Before school and after school.

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He’d sit for hours on her bed talking to her. Telling her about his day, listening to her stories. Trying to make the most of every minute. He’d help her with the pain, put pads on her legs and sides so she could give herself small electric shocks when the pain got really bad. He was visiting her in hospital on his way to school when she died.

Since becoming leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, Ed has been driven by an unquenchable fire to fight for better cancer care and outcomes in the UK and better support for carers. He is one of my closest friends in politics and he has enlisted me on that crusade. Last week, I challenged the First Minister on the deficiencies of access to cancer care in Scotland.

A few days previously I had received a message from Gill. Gill and I had studied Higher Art together at school in St Andrews 30 years ago, but I hadn’t seen her since. In the intervening years, her mum, dad, cousin, aunt and two grandparents had all sadly died of cancer. There is something in the family. Her sister Jo tested positive for a cancer gene known as CHEK2 and had preventative surgery and reconstruction in Edinburgh.

But Gill, who lives in another part of Scotland was repeatedly denied genetic testing by NHS Glasgow, despite her family history. She fought and fought and after finally getting tested discovered that she does indeed carry the same gene.

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But now she is being told that the surgery her sister received in Edinburgh isn’t available in Glasgow, meaning far longer waits and recovery times. Just last month an international study revealed that Scotland has amongst the longest waits and poorest access to treatment for cancer.

When cancer rips through your family, and you know it is coming for you, the last thing you need is to fight for care. All Gill wants is to see her young children grow up – something her own mum never got to do. But she faces this awful postcode lottery. We need to be sure that every patient in Scotland can access the highest standard of care when they need it and if it isn’t available near them, then they should have the right to travel to another part of the country to get that treatment if needs be. It’s clear that cancer just isn’t a priority for the Scottish Government, but it should be.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP is Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats