In my Hartlepool Mail column from last week I wrote about cancer and the importance of having good healthcare and support.
The provision of health services in our town has been very much the subject of attention in the last few days.
I’m afraid that there will be Hartlepool people this week suffering from cancer, and families and friends caring for their loved ones.
Everybody will be in agreement that we want to see in the town (and I do stress, in the town), the best possible services, making sure that serious illnesses and diseases are diagnosed quickly and that patients receive safe and prompt treatment, to the highest quality available to the NHS.
That is why Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum’s investigation into cancer awareness and early diagnosis is very important.
Today, I gave evidence to the forum, stressing what I think to be the main areas for improvement.
Hartlepool’s health has improved over the last few years. But it is frustrating that other areas’ health have improved faster, meaning that differences in quality of life, illnesses and life expectancy are still far too wide.
The reduction in heart disease and strokes in the town relative to the rest of the country, is welcome however cancer rates have not reduced.
The town still suffers far more than the rest of the country in terms of suffering and dying from cancer.
Why is this? Much of it is to do with our lifestyle.
I’m afraid we in the town still smoke, drink too much and eat the wrong types of food.
All of this contributes to higher cancer rates. Of significance is the high level of smoking rates in the town, despite the very clear link between smoking and lung cancer.
In some parts of the town, half of the adult population still smoke. That is bound to have an impact upon cancer rates, especially lung cancer.
I worry that this will increase, especially among women. Walking around the town, you see a large number of young women carrying a cigarette. I’m afraid that this is a health time bomb waiting to explode.
People contact me from time-to-time expressing concern about a possible links between the fact that we have a nuclear power station on our doorstep and a high level of cancer in the town.
They say that we in Hartlepool have much higher-than-average levels of childhood cancer and that this can be attributed to the power station.
As a parent myself, I would certainly want to be reassured that no such link exists.
Thankfully, such a link is not true, and I would wish to put an end to such scaremongering.
An international survey carried out about five years ago showed no link between nuclear facilities and childhood cancer, particularly those of leukaemia.
In Hartlepool, despite the fact that we have higher than normal levels of cancer, the proportion of cases of cancer in childhood, as compared with the number of children in the town is on a par with the rest of the country.
One of the things that the health scrutiny forum will wish to concentrate on is the way in which people identify problems early enough and go and see their doctor.
If cancer is detected early enough, advances in modern techniques would mean that survival rates would be much better.
Some people in Hartlepool are far too reluctant to go to their GP. This could be for a variety of reasons, whether it is people not wanting to bother their doctor, or being too busy, or being frightened by what they might hear.
But with a greater emphasis on prevention, early detection and screening of people as part of a general health check up, hundreds of lives in Hartlepool could be saved and millions of pounds saved for the NHS.
I hope there is a concerted effort to emphasise early detection, prevention and screening, and the council’s scrutiny forum investigation into how this can be done is a very welcome step toward this, and ultimately towards saving lives in Hartlepool.