Digital in the fight against cancer: Cancer Strategy for Scotland 2023-2033

The Scottish Government has published its ‘Cancer Strategy for Scotland 2023-2033’ which includes key points and implications for the use of digital in the fight against cancer.

The strategic intent is “to improve cancer survival and provide excellent, equitably accessible care”. The strategy also outlines a 10-year vision where “more cancers are prevented, and our compassionate and consistent cancer service provides excellent treatment and support throughout the cancer journey, and improves outcomes and survival for people with cancer.”

The use of digital technologies is highlighted within the strategy, with recognition for how advancements will “allow people with cancer to access services in different ways” whilst also providing support for patients in ways which work best for them.

The strategy notes the role that digital can play in the redesigning of services as part of the wider transformation framework, “further harnessing the potential of innovations, integrating many more of our systems, removing associated barriers and, where the evidence is clear, embracing novel treatments and digital opportunities”.

Embracing digital in the fight against cancer

The strategy acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on driving forward uptake of digital products, processes and services, in order to meet new and increasing pressures.

“The increase in digital –planned for before the pandemic and significantly accelerated as part of our response – will increasingly become a choice for people accessing services and for the staff delivering them.”

Advancements in digital are expected, according to the strategy, to enable more people to manage their condition at home, as well as to facilitate more remote pre- and post-operative assessments. The development of a Digital Front Door (DFD) will be a “key enabler” for people interacting with health and social care services in Scotland, allowing patients to manage appointments and carry out basic activities online. Moreover, it is hoped that digital technologies can help to build a better understanding of patient journeys and experiences, capturing patient-reported outcomes and experience measures.

The strategy sets out the ways in which more training places will lead to an expanded workforce, and how it will be important to ensure that this workforce is deployed effectively, “ensuring that all professionals are doing the work they are best placed to do while recognising some tasks may be undertaken more appropriately by others”. Digital is expected to play a key role in helping to inform and implement these kinds of workforce changes, not only through enabling better data collection on where services are most needed, but also allowing improvements in how those services are carried out.

The document states: “Technological advances and digital solutions will change how our workforce operates and how people with cancer access services, for example, increased use of telemedicine (clinical care provided remotely).”

Promoting equitable access to services

With one of the main elements of the strategic vision emphasising the need to provide “equitably accessible care”, the strategy states: “Scotland’s geography means there are particular challenges in providing equity of access to some rural and island communities. Improving the accessibility of services through the location of services and use of digital technology, providing transport, maintaining support structures, ensuring affordability and increased focus on cultural competence of services are all measures likely to reduce inequalities. Speciality outreach services can improve access and self- reported health.”

Reducing inequities in access, experience and outcomes for individuals and groups “experiencing socio-economic inequalities, racism and discrimination”, is something that the strategy also seeks to achieve.

“We will do so by improving the way we collect and use data and evidence to monitor equity of access, experience and outcomes for marginalised and minoritised groups, and targeting action where it is needed most.”

Existing disparities in access to diagnostic and treatment services will be improved using technology which facilitates remote consultations, and the addition of more digital elements to the system will be part of ensuring that “nobody is left behind”.

To read the strategy in full, please click here.