John Hartson said he “loved” hearing Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar calling for a cancer recovery programme and that it should be the priority after the Holyrood election.
The former Wales and Celtic striker survived testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, and said he would not have lived without immediate treatment, including two brain surgeries and chemotherapy.
During a campaign event in Edinburgh ahead of Thursday’s Holyrood election, Mr Hartson said he fears for the cancer patients whose treatment has been delayed or may not have been diagnosed due to backlogs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Hartson said he has never been formally involved in politics but he has “loved” Scottish Labour’s plan to restore and improve cancer services as the country recovers from the pandemic.
He said: “I’m backing the cancer recovery plan, I’ve never really been formally involved in politics or anything like that.
“It doesn’t matter who you vote for, cancer’s not going to stop for anyone.
“I think it’s important to prioritise that now because in the last year there’s an awful lot of cancer sufferers who are suffering and dying because they’ve not been able to get the treatment they desperately need.
“My view is that whoever gets into parliament, whoever it may be, the priority must be to get these cancer sufferers seen to, get the operations.
“In my own personal view, I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t got the treatment I needed so desperately at that particular time.”
Having witnessed diagnostic and treatment backlogs increase during the pandemic, Mr Hartson said the health service has “rightly” focused on coronavirus but now was the time to prioritise cancer treatments.
The 46-year-old, who set up the John Hartson foundation to focus on testicular cancer, added: “Lots of people have suffered with a pandemic and my heart goes out to everybody that we lost during the pandemic, but now we seem to be getting somewhere in terms of the vaccines and everything else.
“It’s just a case of, now, moving forward, whoever gets into parliament should be prioritising, these people that have sadly come in to come into cancer.
“For me, that’s where the priority has to be.
“Coming from a personal point of view, I just want these poor people who’ve got cancer to be looked after because there are people dying on our watch because they’re not getting the right treatment for cancer.
“I’ve got five scars on my head but I know with certainty I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t have been given the immediate treatment that I needed.”
Speaking to PA after meeting Mr Hartson, Mr Sarwar said: “John’s got an incredible personal story and no-one needs to tell him about how important early diagnosis is, how important confronting the cancer crisis is.”
He added: “Speaking to John, you understand why – to people that have survived cancer, people who are sufferers of cancer – they recognised why putting cancer services and clearing the cancer backlog has to be the priority for the next parliament, not going back to the old arguments and old divisions.”
Scottish Labour’s manifesto sets out a catch-up initiative across cancer screening programmes, increasing staff and processing capacity to clear the backlog of appointments before the end of next year.
It also calls for rapid diagnostic centres to be established in every health board area so GPs can refer patients who have suspicious but unclear symptoms for a diagnosis within two weeks.
Patients should also have a single point of contact to guide them through their cancer treatment and provide personalised support, the party says.