Over the border in England, the Prime Minister has been talking about changing priorities in the NHS in England and focus more on preventative medicine, particularly through 'screening'. In general, I think this is a sensible approach, but I'm not sure what Gordon Brown actually means. To what extent is it just words without any means to act on them. More screening will lead to more need for treatment, which will cost more, certainly in the short term - at a time when the Government has been cutting investment in the very areas that are being targeted.
I have a particular personal interest in screening in relation to Bowel Cancer - and raised the issue on several occasions when I was an Assembly Member. At the time, Wales was lagging behind England in its plans to introduce a screening programme. The Minister responded to my questions by making the entirely reasonable point that there is no value in a screening programme if the infrastructure is not in place to treat the problems that are discovered. And this would take a lot of money and preparation.
Now screening really matters where Bowel Cancer is concerned. The tumour can develop and grow without the owner knowing anything about it for several years - until it is too late to be effectively treated. I was lucky in that my tumour was sufficiently low down in my bowel to make its presence known at a relatively early stage. I discovered the problem and underwent a lower bowel resection which enabled a full recovery. The tumour was at Dukes Stage 1, still within the rectum wall. Every year there are many thousands who are not so lucky. The cancer has spread and often they are faced with chemotherapy treatment and an early death. An effective screening programme would save thousands of lives every year - but in the short term, it would lead to more cost.
There is an unanswerable case to change the focus of health spending towards preventative spending - but lets not pretend that this can be done without more spending in the short term. Announcements without the capacity to deliver are a con. I strongly suspect that Gordon Brown's words are no more than just that.... words without any real meaning.