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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Health Secretary: Tackling health disparities including cancer is my top priority – for me it’s a moral mission.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is appealing for the South Asian community to respond to his call for evidence for the government’s 10-Year Cancer Plan

In an exclusive with Asian Standard, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has issued a plea for the South Asian community to come forward and share their views on cancer, in a bid to help identify improvements in cancer care, and to ensure healthcare is working for people of all backgrounds and all ethnicities.

Mr Javid said: “When it comes to cancer care there are some things we are very good at – the NHS, and there are other areas we recognise we need to do better at.

“We want to transform cancer care and when we do that, we want to make sure we are tackling disparities and inequalities so that no matter who you are, whatever your background you all get the same high quality health care.”

Mr Javid went on to identify how certain ethnic minority communities are more at risk from cancer than others and that’s one of the key reasons he wants to appeal to Asian Standard readers to participate in the call for evidence by completing the online survey.

He expressed how crucial the call for evidence was, as it would help set the 10-year cancer plan that the government is “committed to deliver” with hopes that it will “transform cancer care in not just the UK, but in Europe too”.

Cancer screening, such as breast screening has a lower uptake from those of South Asian backgrounds compared to other communities.

He said: “One thing that is very obvious when it comes to cancer is that there are certain ethnic minority communities especially those from more deprived areas who are at more risk from cancer and that’s why it’s important we hear from everyone and I want to make sure we are hearing from Brits including ethnic minority Brits and make sure their voice is heard”

According to research led by the University of Warwick members of the South Asian community are only half as likely to take up an invitation for bowel cancer screening and 15 per cent less likely to attend breast cancer screening than members of the none-Asian community. The research was carried out by Professor Ala Szczepura at the University of Warwick based on a survey of 400,000 people over the period 1989 to 2005.

These stark results have led to several campaigns including proactive campaigns from screening specialists like Julie Hodgins, a health promotion specialist at Pennine Breast Screening Service, to actively campaign and encourage more women of South Asian background, to come forward and get screened, and also get into the habit to check their breasts regularly

However, the uptake, especially from Muslim women, still continues to stay lower for this community compared to others. So, what will be different with this cancer plan?

Mr Javid says: “I don’t know all the reasons why people aren’t coming forward for screening programmes, but I can give you my own experience – my dad died from cancer, and he comes from a South Asian background.

“Had he gone to the doctor earlier with his problems, his cancer which started as lung cancer and spread to his colon, could have been detected earlier, but it was too late and sadly he paid for it with his life. As a family we could have had more years with my dad.

“My dad himself thought that people from the South Asian community weren’t taking these risks seriously and after his diagnosis was telling his friends, be it at the mosque or temples to get checked out.

“For me tackling health disparities including cancer is my top priority and not just for it’s obvious reasons for me it’s a moral mission.

“We need to find out what more we can do and that’s why we’re having this call for evidence”

It’s not the first time, a plan for cancer has been put forward, so the question is about accountability and the effectiveness of such plans.

The Health Secretary assures Asian Standard that he and his government hope to be very committed and transparent with his plan.

He reveals: As a country we need to more to make sure our healthcare system is working for people of all backgrounds and all ethnicities. So when it comes to cancer what we will do is publish the plan and it will be very transparent and with very clear commitments of what we will do. Whether it comes to screening, it comes to outreach, to treatments – we will set all that out, including research.

“Once we publish it publicly it will be a commitment the government and the NHS will make, and we will then be held to account by the public and Parliament on delivery.

“I am confident of that. The need now is to hear from more people. They can go online complete the survey and be absolutely assured we will take it very seriously”

To get involved in the call for evidence and help with the 10-year cancer plan, simple fill out the online survey by following: 10-Year Cancer Plan: Call for Evidence – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Call for evidence closes 1 April 11.45pm

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