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Last week we laid out what the national political parties are proposing for health, research and cancer in England.
Now, with just two weeks to go before the General Election, we turn to the parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
With the outcome of the election proving difficult to predict, the potential role of these smaller parties has never been bigger. So we’ve been analysing the manifestos from the parties in each of the devolved nations to find out what’s relevant for cancer, the NHS, and research more broadly.
Health across the country
Although health is largely a ‘devolved’ issue – meaning decisions are made separately across the different countries – there are some elements of health regulation and policy that apply across the UK, and remain the responsibility of the UK parliament in Westminster.
This means that Westminster MPs from all nations have a part to play in deciding policies relevant to people affected by cancer: for example, on clinical trial regulation, research funding and tobacco control among others. They can also vote on the health and science budgets for the UK as a whole.
And as with the main parties in England, health is an issue which the majority of devolved parties have addressed in the run up to May 7th. So what are their specific priorities?
In the run up to the General Election, the spotlight has focused heavily on Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its leader, Nicola Sturgeon. In its manifesto, the SNP has pledged to make Scotland’s voice louder in Westminster and will act to prevent cuts and increase investment in the economy.
It has also announced that it will vote on matters which relate to the other nations and not just Scotland. For example, its MPs will vote against measures to privatise any part of the NHS in England.
On health, the SNP has endorsed NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, including finding the £8bn needed to meet the NHS funding challenge. It will also vote for an increase in NHS spending across the UK of £24bn by the end of the next Parliament. This will have the effect of boosting NHS Scotland’s budget by £2bn a year by 2020.
The SNP’s manifesto mentioned improvements in waiting times for cancer treatments as a demonstration of its commitment to improving cancer care in Scotland. At the moment, 94 per cent of patients receive treatment within 62 days, compared to 85 per cent in 2007.
It has also stated it will promote a culture of innovation, and support Scottish universities’ role in creating world-leading research.
The SNP will also support a tobacco levy to make tobacco companies pay for the damage they continue to cause to public health.
Following the Scottish Independence Referendum, and focus on devolving further powers away from Westminster, Plaid Cymru – the ‘Party of Wales’ – is calling for the same deal as Scotland on funding and powers. Its manifesto addresses the NHS, scientific research, as well as specific commitments relating to the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Plaid Cymru has committed to introducing a 50p minimum unit price on alcohol, reducing sugar intake through a tax on sugary drinks and supporting measures to stop tobacco addiction. It will prioritise early diagnosis by tackling waiting times for diagnostic tests and implement a National Cancer Plan to improve patient care. To improve patient access to medicines it will introduce a Welsh Medicines and Treatments Fund for treatments not available on the NHS in Wales.
And on research it supports the All Trials Campaign for publication of all clinical trials, and will work to ensure that Wales increases its research capability and funding.
Northern Ireland is unique within the UK. None of the main national parties (i.e. Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats) held any seats at the last election, and the party with the second highest number of seats, Sinn Fein, does not take up its seats in Westminster.
All Northern Irish parties are calling for a greater devolution of financial powers and increased borrowing powers from Westminster. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will campaign for a budget which allows real health improvements while not at the expense of other public services.
On the issue of preventing health problems, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) is calling for an increase in the health budget to allow more money to be spent on prevention. It would like to see prevention spend account for four per cent of the overall budget and an Executive Programme Fund to initiate a long-term preventative health strategy. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Alliance also wants to see a greater emphasis on prevention.
On top of this, Alliance is calling for easier access to cancer drugs and treatments for patients in Northern Ireland, including the introduction of a Cancer Drugs Fund.
Similarly, the SDLP will continue its campaign for access to a broader range of cancer drugs. The UUP is critical of existing cancer services, suggesting that they are “in crisis” and is calling for urgent investment. The UUP also commits to using the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme to ensure that patients with rare diseases are “no longer last to receive revolutionary treatments”.
As with our analysis of the national party manifestos, we’re pleased to see some clear commitments around the health service, research and cancer from the parties in the devolved nations.
But as ever, with a changing political environment, the prospect of further powers being devolved and devolved nation elections next year it’s vital that we don’t take our foot off the pedal and continue working to keep cancer on the agenda across the whole of the UK.
So if you would like to show your support and help us Cross Cancer Out, sign up here.
And for a recap about what the national parties will do for cancer patients and public health, take a look at our analysis of their manifestos.
Harriet Adams is a public affairs officer at Cancer Research UK