The row over Labour’s direct mail on cancer has provoked stern words from the Tories. Three points need addressing: is early diagnosis a legitimate policy priority, were the leaflets accurate, and are the Conservatives justified in calling them “sick”? On the first two, the answer appears to be a resounding yes while after a Tory leaflet featuring a machete dripping with blood, David Cameron is guilty of hypocrisy.
The Labour party’s manifesto has a number of pledges around cancer. Among them the party says:
“The cancer guarantee will ensure that all patients see a cancer specialist within two weeks of GP referral”
The focus on early diagnosis is prompted by the National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Mike Richards. Late last year the BBC reported that, “The NHS in England must get better at diagnosing cancers at an earlier stage if it is to continue to improve survival rates”. It went on to quote Professor Richards who said:
“People living in most parts of this country are not getting diagnosed as early as they should. As I have already highlighted, raising awareness and promoting early diagnosis are essential if we are to bring cancer survival rates up to the level of the best of Europe.”
Dizzy Thinks posted a blog this morning on Macmillan Cancer Support’s three Manifesto Calls. As he points out, this does not include “another target for entry” such as Labour’s early diagnosis pledge. But a spokeswoman at Macmillan told me:
“It’s not that we don’t think that early diagnosis is important, it’s just that Macmillan is concerned with caring for people after diagnosis.”
Meanwhile, the Cancer Research UK website says:
Thousands of people beat cancer every year. Doing so is easier when cancer’s diagnosed at an early stage as treatment is often simpler and more likely to be effective. So finding cancer early can make a real difference.
And what of the accuracy of Labour’s claims in the leaflets? The leaflets featured in the Sunday Times outlined that, “the Tories want to scrap your right to see a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral”. Channel 4 Fact Check is clear about the veracity of this claim:
“We’ve seen some Labour leaflets playing pretty loose with the truth, but on this occasion they’re grounded in fact as the Conservatives have promised to scrap Labour’s maximum waiting time targets.”
The leaflets themselves have clearly offended some people and that is regrettable. Right-wing blogger MTPT has taken the moral high ground and called for election leaflets to be regulated. But David Cameron is hypocritical in calling them “sick“. An inflammatory anti-immigration leaflet was distributed last month in the constituency of Conservative Andrew Rosindell while yesterday, Left Outside reveal a disgusting poster of a bloodied machete with the headline “Labour’s cuts: violent crime up 44% under Labour”. Unlike Labour’s cancer mailshot, the Tory leaflet is factually incorrect. Chris Grayling was “rebuked” earlier this year by the UK Statistics Authority for making a similar statement. The Chair Sir Michael Scholar said the British Crime Survey was a “more reliable” measure than the numbers the Conservatives used. It found people’s experience of violent crime had fallen by 50 per cent since 1995.