By a Newsnet reporter
The last two sessions of First Minister’s Questions has witnessed Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont focus on cancer treatment, specifically the availability of drugs in Scotland.
The focus by Ms Lamont has epitomised what Labour in Scotland have become, a party that will use anything in order to mount an attack on the SNP.

Central to Labour’s attack on the Scottish government is the apparent variance with England when it comes to the availability of some cancer drugs.  One drug that has featured prominently is a drug called Cetuximab.

The company who manufacture the drug, Merck KGAA, issued guidelines in 2010 to the Individual Patient treatment Request (IPTR), they advised against prescribing the drug to Scottish NHS patients who had already undergone chemotherapy.

The IPTR was set up in order to open up a channel for access to drugs that had not been sanctioned by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) - the body which approves new medicines for the NHS in Scotland.

However, the IPTR has come under attack from Scottish Labour who are claiming that the system in operation south of the border is leading to cancer patients in England having far greater access to these drugs than those living in Scotland.

On May 16th, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont attacked free prescriptions and suggested some of the money could be better used paying for drugs such as Cetuximab.

In her opening question, she said:

"A packet of paracetamol costs 19p in Tesco.  To dispense it on a free prescription costs the NHS £3.10 per prescription.  The NHS spends £7.2m a year dispensing paracetamol.

"For that amount of money two hundred Scottish cancer patients could get Cetuximab to treat their condition for free for a year.  While that treatment is free in England, Scots cancer patients have to pay around £3000 a month for it."

She added: "In the First Minister’s Scotland if you have a headache your prescription is free, but if you have cancer your prescription costs £3000 a month."

One week later, the Scottish Labour leader again brought up cancer drugs, this time describing the system in Scotland as "unfair".

Following Ms Lamont’s initial attack on the system that operates in Scotland, BBC Scotland online decided it should be the top political story in Scotland that day.  Incredibly, when the Scottish Labour leader repeated the attack one week later, BBC Scotland online did exactly the same thing again and made it the top story.

Four days after the initial attack, BBC Scotland Radio phone-in programme Call Kaye covered the issue.  In an uncomfortable broadcast, cancer victims were urged to phone in and detail how the system had let them down.  The programme also highlighted Johann Lamont’s attack on free prescriptions and challenged SNP Minister Alex Neil to defend the SNP's free prescription policy.

What neither of these reports mentioned was the actual stance taken by Scottish Labour on both the Individual Patient treatment Request and the ending of free prescriptions to pay for more cancer drugs.

In 2011 Scottish Labour MSP Mary Fee openly attacked a suggestion from the Scottish Conservatives that the cost of cancer drugs in Scotland should be paid for by scrapping free prescriptions in Scotland.

Speaking in a debate on cancer drug availability, the Labour MSP attacked the Scottish Conservatives for planning to re-introduce prescription charges in order to pay for cancer drugs.

Ms Fee said: "I find it worrying that the Conservatives would pay for the cancer drugs fund by bringing back prescription fees.

"To me this is a tax for certain illnesses to pay for others."

The apparent support for free prescriptions and the rejection of a Tory plan to re-introduce prescription charges - to pay for cancer drugs - lasted less than two years.

As ever, the Scottish Labour party are being less than honest with those cancer sufferers on whose plight they have hitched their latest anti-SNP campaign.

Scottish Labour are already on record as opposing the cancer fund system that operates in England.  Indeed speaking in September 2011, the party’s Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie didn’t just rule out an English style fund, she confirmed her party supported the very system – IPTR - they are now criticising.

Speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Baillie described IPTR as:

"…an innovation to improve our existing system which we absolutely approve of.  It does enable clinicians to make judgements in the interests of their patients."

The Labour MSP added that the IPTR was supposed to "make the medicine available to those who will benefit it most" – a key phrase.

Baillie also warned that there appeared to be failings in the system and urged the Scottish government to provide a measurement of how many requests for drugs were being made and what the success rate of these requests were, citing claims of routine rejections.

There was one other aspect of Ms Baillie’s speech that day when she said: "We value the work being done on value based pricing of medicine."

Value based pricing of medicine is a method of establishing the value of a drug based on whether the additional health expected to be gained from its use exceeds the health forgone as other NHS treatments are displaced by its additional cost.

In short, if the cost of one drug means that more patients will suffer because another cannot be purchased then this has to be factored in.

So, in late 2011 we know that Scottish Labour absolutely approved of IPTR.  We know that they were not calling for a blanket approval of all IPTR requests, but only to those who would benefit most and we know that they were concerned about the rate of success of requests.

The Scottish government collated the figures of successful applications to those submitted and found the success rate of requests stands at two thirds - a high figure by any standard.

So is this enough to satisfy Scottish Labour?

Apparently not, for in February 2013 Scottish Labour who had previously "absolutely" approved of the IPTR system, according to Ms Baillie now considered it "no longer acceptable".

Coinciding with Scottish Labour’s new found ‘disapproval’ of IPTR, the party began highlighting individual and sometimes desperate cases of cancer sufferers whose requests had been refused.

Speaking to the Daily Record, Jackie Baillie also ruled out the cancer fund system operating in England.

She said this was because Labour: "genuinely believe there are other equally serious conditions that required improved access to medicines too".

She also said the cancer drugs fund in England had led to "a bit of a postcode lottery" in some places, "which is not desirable".

The Labour MSP then highlighted the case of Ann Fisher, a mother-of-three from Greenock who suffers from cancer.

"She can't get access to drugs here that would be available if she lived in England,"

It’s this aspect of Scottish Labour’s stance that is most distasteful if not confusing.  Using patients who are quite understandably desperate is unbecoming to say the least.  But to encourage these people to fight for a system that Scottish Labour itself describes as "not desirable" is beyond belief.

The attack on a system they initially supported, despite the improvements already carried out and the reviews still taking place, is typical Scottish Labour.  We see this behaviour time and again on issues such as the council tax freeze and free University education.

They get away with it because the Scottish media refuses to police the party.

But why attack the IPTR system now?

The highlighting of individual patient cases is usually reserved for the period of election campaigning where parties are allowed to politicise any and all issues.  Most people remember the infamous ‘glue ear’ case raised by Labour in the 1992 general election that highlighted the length of time a young girl had waited for an operation.

It remains to be seen if Scottish Labour are employing this tactic in an attempt at encouraging the Scottish media to use the issue in the weeks leading up to the Aberdeen Donside by-election to be held next month.

The Sunday Times ran a story this weekend based on Scottish Labour’s attacks.

We will be watching closely to see if this issue is indeed used by the media to attack the SNP in the lead-up to the by-election.

If it comes to pass that this does indeed become a media campaign then, given the reasons behind the need for a by-election, it will mark a particularly unsavoury signpost on the Scottish Labour road.


# Will C 2013-05-26 23:05
This political point scoring using Cancer victims, is lower than gutter politics. Labour are in the sewers on this one.
# troutbag 2013-05-27 08:50
Quoting Will C:
This political point scoring using Cancer victims, is lower than gutter politics. Labour are in the sewers on this one.

I personally, have never had paracetamol prescribed to me as I can get for pennies in the supermarkets. Why would a GP prescribe a cheap medicine that can be bought over the counter? Unless their patient had other issues? Perhaps a review of medicines that are prescribed but are available cheaper elsewhere is worth considering? Those that are, say less than £1.50 cheaper bought over the counter, remove form the medicine list? I am not a GP so may have not thought this through correctly. It's just a thought
# jamaisarriere 2013-05-27 12:11
There is a wider range of strengths of pain-killers than your point infers. My elderly mum had chronic arthritic and joint pain and was prescribed progressively stronger painkillers including paracetemol strengths not sold over the counter, onto codeine (co-codamol), thankfully she did not require morphine before she died.

Your simplistic view of medicine is straight out of Lamont's book!
# Davy 2013-05-27 05:14
Watching Lamont and labour use a cancer sufferer to attack the Scottish government during FMQ's was the most disgracful and shameful thing I have ever seen in a scottish political event.

It showed the country their was no low that Labour would not sink to.
# src19 2013-05-27 09:04
No doubt Scotland could have any number of other drugs available if Labour had not signed up for all that PFI debt. Labour are the ones that have denied patients the treatment they should be allowed.
# WRH2 2013-05-27 10:16
In recent years, having lost close family members to cancer against which drugs proved to be ineffective, I find Johann Lamont's use of cancer patients to score cheap points beyond description. I've watched her FMQ questions in the past two weeks with a mixture of disgust and disbelief. Does she understand she could be giving false hope to other sufferers who might not benefit from these drugs? People battling against cancer are in a desperate situation and any potential glimmer of hope is seized upon. My relatives were so ill that they could not even tolerate the drugs they were prescribed. No drug would have saved them: the cancers were just too aggressive. Can Johan Lamont not think of people who have suffered the loss of those dearest to them and the hurt and distress she is causing? She makes me sick with disgust.
# nchanter 2013-05-27 13:26
It is obvious that Johan Lamont does not give a XXX for the people of Scotland no one will be in any doubt. My greatest concern is Mr Hague's desperation to arm the syrian rebels, I believe this would put a stop to any referendum if we find ourselves in another war.. A very dangerous man is our Mr Hague.
# Red Squirrel 2013-05-27 15:22
The patient and their family have my heartfelt sympathy for both their illness and being used in this shameful way.

We have one of the most effective health services anywhere in the world and we should remain very proud of it. Sadly there will always be cases where even with the most expensive treatments, the disease is not curable.This drug is categorised as being unlikely to bring significant benefit i.e. life will not be extended much beyond standard treatment.

We need to use our limited resources wisely - these are difficult choices but to suggest that there are other ways where everything is possible is deliberately misleading.
I would be very surprised if the prescription tax was cost effective, most folk were exempt from charges anyway.

This is a disgraceful tactic and is beneath contempt. Please do not let it tarnish our NHS but let it remind you that only a YES vote will protect it.
# Breeks 2013-05-27 18:57
This is the moral equivalent of asking the cancer patient herself to decide who should forfeit their NHS treatment to pay for her drugs. Spare a thought for the person inside the NHS who has had to make these acutely difficult decisions about who lives or dies, and this is nothing but moral blackmail to keep them lying awake at night. Pitiful.

It is so crass as to be unbelievable, and speaks volumes about the decency and lack of caliber of people on the opposition benches.
# brusque 2013-05-27 20:00
""O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us"

To see oursels as others see us".

It would save (some of)us from many mistakes, and foolish thoughts spoken.
We would change the way we look and gesture, and what we apply our time and attention to, hopefully.

I wonder if Johann has ever given any thought to what Rab meant?? I think not, she has not displayed one iota of graciousness or common sense - and is not looking likely to change that anytime soon.
# cuckooshoe 2013-05-28 01:09

''The £570 per month ‘cancer tax’ that affects thousands

Charity reveals full scale of hidden costs including parking fees and loss of income''
# Yesitis 2013-05-28 15:48
Oh Oh...Eleanor Bradford on BBC Reporting Labour`s Scotland alert! First Minister`s Questions on Thursday looks like being about Accident and Emergency waiting times being longer than ever (according to Labour).

Okay, so now we know Labour`s strategy until at least the Aberdeen Donside by-election. NHS NHS NHS
# gus1940 2013-05-29 07:49
Why should Labour bear the cost of employing Special Advisers when we have the BBC employing Bailie's Little Helper Eleanor Bradford and we the enthusiastic payers of The Propaganda Tax (AKA License) are forced to pay her salary.
# ituna semea 2013-05-28 16:09
Lamont's job is to take the Government to task, Ms Sturgeon when in opposition was particularly good at this.
# snowthistle 2013-05-28 19:40
Don't remember Ms Sturgeon using such low tactics, but I could be wrong
# jdman 2013-05-29 06:26
Thank you
I wondered if it was just me being too sensitive,
but I thought Joanne Lamont wheeling that poor woman out in the parliament (figuratively speaking) was quite frankly despicable,
have the labour party/MSM lost any sense of shame?
the depths to which they will plumb leaves me speechless
I sincerely hope that lady gets the help she needs and makes a full recovery.
# cuckooshoe 2013-05-29 18:01
Public backs Labour's policy in Wales..

(It's the same as the SNP's)

Also, Scotland spends more per person on health services than England and Wales.. but less than in Northern Ireland..

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