Sturgeon admits drug deaths rate ‘completely unacceptable’

Scottish Government accused of cutting rehab and treatment services 'to the bone'.

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Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Scotland’s drugs death rate is “completely unacceptable” as her government was accused of cutting rehabilitation services “to the bone”.

The First Minister acknowledged “the problem in Scotland is worse than it is elsewhere”, as she pledged to move quickly to improve services.

Figures released earlier this week showed there were 1264 deaths in 2019 which involved substance use – a higher rate than across all EU countries and more than three times the UK as a whole.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon noted that behind every statistic is a “human being whose life mattered”.

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Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood, asked about government funding for beds at drug rehabilitation centres.

She said NHS beds at the Castle Craig rehab hospital in West Linton had fallen from 257 in 2002 to five in 2019, while only 13% of all rehab beds in Scotland are provided by the Scottish Government.

Davidson said: “Back in 2006, Nicola Sturgeon stood where I am – right on this spot – berating the then Scottish government for cutting rehab funding.

“The Trainspotting generation theory has been busted because the number of young people dying has doubled in the last two years.

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“And the thing that is different about Scotland, the thing that is entirely devolved, is drug treatment and rehabilitation and that is what this Government has cut to the bone.”

The First Minister said: “I think many of the criticisms are valid and legitimate and we have got much work to do in order to ensure that we sort the problem of people dying avoidably from drugs.”

She said she will update MSPs again in January after she meets with a drug death taskforce, which will look at a number of public health interventions.

Sturgeon said: “These are real people whose lives matter and I am absolutely determined that we take the actions to fix this.

“I am not making comparisons with what is happening elsewhere because I do think the problem in Scotland is worse than it is elsewhere.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard read out a quote from activist Peter Krykant, who has offered a “safe consumption van” for drug users.

He said: “Since Scotland’s drug death day of shame just two days ago, another six people will have died.

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“Three will die today. We will not have a daily briefing about these three people or any news coverage.

“Don’t let them be forgotten about until they come out as a statistic.”

Leonard, along with Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, repeated a call for public health minister Joe FitzPatrick to step down.

The Labour leader said the minister’s statement on the matter earlier in the week had been “woeful”.

Sturgeon pledged to “work with” FitzPatrick on the issue.

She said: “Hopefully, as we go forward, while there will be legitimate criticism of this government we can also build consensus on the steps that have to be taken to make sure that we do resolve this and sort what is an unacceptable situation.”


Over-70s to receive Covid jab appointments in blue envelopes

The 'distinctive' blue envelopes have been given priority by Royal Mail and will start arriving through letterboxes from Monday.

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Letters: Over 70s to begin receiving jab appointments.

Blue envelopes containing coronavirus vaccination appointments for those aged 70 to 79 will start arriving through letterboxes on Monday, the Scottish Government has said.

As the inoculation programme moves through priority groups, several health board areas are beginning to send out letters telling those in the age group when they will receive their first dose of the Covid-19 jab.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman urged people to look out for the “very distinctive” envelopes, which are being given priority by Royal Mail.

A new booking system is also being used by several health boards to schedule appointments for patients in order of priority.

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Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian are among the NHS boards which will use the system.

The Scottish Government said they are on track for all those aged 80 and over to have received their first dose of the vaccine by the end of the first week in February.

This age group will not receive a blue envelope as they are being contacted by telephone or another form of letter.

Freeman said: “We all know how easy it is to ignore some of the mail which comes through our letterboxes but these blue envelopes will be very distinctive and they will contain details of your vaccine appointment so please open them.

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“The letters are being posted first class and we have been advised by the Royal Mail that the colour will allow them to prioritise delivery.

“The blue envelopes will contain information about the time and place of your appointment and details on how to reschedule it if you are unable to attend.

“I would urge everyone to take up their appointment when they are offered one.

“The vaccination programme is one of three key ways we are working to beat this virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and the important lockdown restrictions everyone in Scotland must follow.

“All these measures work to greatest effect when they work together.”

Forbes: Budget will help Scotland ‘recover and renew’

The finance secretary said the plans would help Scotland recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Budget: Plans aim to support Scotland post-pandemic.

This week’s budget will help Scotland to “recover and renew” from the Covid-19 pandemic, finance secretary Kate Forbes has said.

Ahead of the delayed announcement, which customarily takes place in December, Kate Forbes said there would not be a public-sector pay freeze similar to that announced by the UK Government and staff would be offered a settlement that was “fair and affordable”.

In pre-budget consultations, the finance secretary said, sectors have stressed the need for targeted support, which she claims will be delivered when she addresses MSPs on Thursday.

In a statement released on Sunday, she also hinted at the extension of rates relief for businesses but said the Scottish Government currently has “limited resources” with which to offer such support due to the delay in the UK Government’s spending pledges announcement.

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Forbes said: “The budget on Thursday will create the conditions for Scotland to recover and renew.

“The budget will include innovative, targeted measures to help businesses and families get back on their feet and bolster our vital public services.

“I have already ruled out following the UK Government’s public-sector pay freeze and will set out details of a pay settlement that is both fair and affordable.”

The UK budget has been delayed until March by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, something Forbes said at the time would cause “significant difficulties” in the process north of the border.

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In an effort to secure cross-party support for the budget, Forbes continued: “The global pandemic and the problems arising from Brexit combine to make these uniquely challenging times.

“This budget will help Scotland emerge as a globally competitive, fairer and greener country, and I urge all parties to work in the national interest to ensure it is passed by the Scottish Parliament.”

Business group CBI Scotland called for the finance secretary to focus on sustainability and skill in her announcement.

According to the group, the three key areas of focus should be support for businesses in the short term to protect jobs while investing in training for the future and looking at ways to transition to a net zero economy.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said: “CBI Scotland argues that a budget focused on support, skills and sustainability can bolster Scotland’s short and long-term economic prospects.

“That means protecting the companies that will deliver growth, investing properly in our workforce and building a net zero economy that not only delivers a better environmental future, but an economic one too.

“Sustainability can be a competitive advantage for Scotland for years to come and deliver a real jobs boost at a time when we need it most.”

‘We went to great lengths to save our swimming pool’

Events planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a campaign to save Govanhill Baths.

GBCT via Govanhill Baths Community Trust
Community members protest the closure of the Govanhill Baths in 2001.

It was 20 years ago that a Glasgow community rose up in outrage to save their swimming pool.

Now, two decades on from the formation of the Save Our Pool campaign that led to the setting up of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, the historic takeover of the building is to be celebrated.

It all started on January 15, 2001, when the Kingston Swimming Club received notice that Glasgow City Council intended to close the pool.

Two days later, residents determined to keep the baths open started a campaign that would go on to feature the longest-ever occupation of a public building in British history.

Community campaign to save Govanhill Baths. Credit: Govanhill Baths Community Trust.
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Paula Larkin, archivist for the trust, said: “I remember this amazing energy and diversity. You had young Asian boys, older Irish women, all along the same picket line.

“Professionals, academics, unemployed people, we had working mothers and fathers, and teachers.

“The demographic of the campaign was really broad and I think that is one of the reasons it was so successful.”

Community campaign to save Govanhill Baths. Credit: Govanhill Baths Community Trust.

A refurbishment of the baths has been delayed due to the pandemic, but after securing more than £2m to restore it to its former glory, it is hoped work will be completed in 2022.

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This year, numerous events are planned to celebrate not only the Save Our Pool campaign but the history of occupations across the country.

Important anniversaries take place in 2021 for the occupation of the Upper Clyde Shipyard in 1971, the Lee Jeans factory in Greenock in 1981 and the Lovable bra factory in Cumbernauld, also in 1981.

Despite the pandemic, the Govanhill Trust hopes to organise a programme that uses their campaign as a way of exploring the importance of community protest movements.

Ms Larkin said: “It was such an important occupation, thought to be the longest of a public building in British history.

Community campaign to save Govanhill Baths. Credit: Govanhill Baths Community Trust.

“Through that occupation, eventually the Govanhill Baths Community Trust was set up and we’ve managed to save that building and it is going to be reopened in 2022 as a wellbeing centre.

“Without the occupation, it wouldn’t have happened. All the amazing work we’ve been doing since 2012 wouldn’t have happened. It’s absolutely key in the history of the trust.”

A Facebook page, Save Our Pool History Group, has been set up to bring those involved in the picket line, demonstrations and campaigning back together to contribute to the remembrance events.

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Ms Larkin said the involvement of those who wrote and sang protest songs, made banners and fought to save the pool is “key” to the celebrations.

Community campaign to save Govanhill Baths. Credit: Govanhill Baths Community Trust.

When Bon Jovi brought Glasgow city centre to a standstill

Huge crowds gathered on Argyle Street as the American rockers performed at Tower Records.

STV News

Glasgow city centre was brought to a halt on a summer day in 1995 when American rockers Bon Jovi turned up.

The band played six songs – including an acoustic version of their biggest hit Livin’ On A Prayer – through the open windows of Tower Records in Argyle Street.

Huge crowds gathered outside the music shop to greet Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and the rest of the band on June 14, 1995.

They were also treated to other Bon Jovi classics such as Wanted Dead or Alive and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

Calls to draft in supply teachers to offer extra support

The Scottish Liberal Democrats say urgent measures are needed to offer catch-up support to pupils.

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Schools: Calls for extra support for pupils.

Supply teachers should be brought into schools to provide extra catch-up support for pupils during the pandemic, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.

The party’s education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart MSP has written to Education Secretary John Swinney calling on him to introduce urgent measures to employ qualified supply teachers to provide extra support for children who would benefit from catch-up support and extra one-on-one learning.

She said that such a catch-up mechanism “could help dampen the worst impacts of the pandemic on learning”.

It comes after Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) general secretary Larry Flanagan called for “the rapid employment of supply teachers currently seeking work to provide additional support to those pupils struggling to engage with remote learning”.

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In her letter, Wishart wrote: “Teachers are working flat out to give pupils the best education they can. But supply teachers are telling me that they have consistently been underemployed since the start of the pandemic.

“I am writing to urge you to immediately lend your support to the introduction of new measures to employ qualified supply teachers to provide extra support for pupils who would benefit from catch-up support and extra one-on-one learning.

“I believe such a new catch-up mechanism, rooted in the judgement of class teachers, could help dampen the worst impacts of the pandemic on learning.”

Most pupils are currently taking part in online learning, with only those deemed vulnerable and the children of key workers attending school.

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Ms Wishart said that the loss of routine, time spent with friends and full access to normal learning has been hard, and “children have missed out on so much over the past year”.

She added: “The evidence I am receiving is that supply teachers have the capacity to help bridge some of that gap, both during the current period of remote learning, (and) also once schools return.

“They have valuable skills and experience, and can provide precious additional support. We should be looking to bring in every helping hand available.

“The nationwide package agreed in the spring for supply teachers helped with their initial predicament.

“But I believe there is now an urgent need to establish new catch-up mechanisms, and that supply teachers can be a part of this.”

Swinney, who is also Deputy First Minister, said: “The number of full-time equivalent teachers is at its highest since 2008 and since the start of the pandemic our additional funding has led to 1400 teachers and over 200 support staff being appointed.

“Last week we allocated an additional £45m to councils to support schools and families.

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“That funding, which is sufficient to fund 2000 additional teachers, can be used to recruit additional staff including supply teachers.”

Further 76 Covid deaths as vaccine rollout continues

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5704.

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Scotland has recorded a further 76 deaths from coronavirus as a mass roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination continues in Glasgow.

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5704.

There were 1307 new cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday, with 2085 people currently in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 159 people were in intensive care, a decrease of two from Friday.

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Meanwhile, the roll out of mass vaccinations at the NHS Louisa Jordan, situated at the SEC Glasgow, continued on Saturday.

A total of 65 vaccine stations have been created at the hospital, utilising the large floor space to ensure a rapid turnaround in a safe environment. 

Last weekend, more than 5000 health and social care staff were vaccinated at the site.

The latest figures show 380,667 people have received their first coronavirus vaccination, with 5188 having received their second dose.

SNP reveals 11-point ‘roadmap’ to independence referendum

Document says 'legal referendum' will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May's election.

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Mike Russell will present document to SNP's policy forum.

The SNP has revealed a “roadmap to a referendum” on Scottish independence, setting out how they intend to take forward their plans for a second vote.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, will present the 11-point document to the party’s policy forum on Sunday.

It says a “legal referendum” will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May’s election.

The roadmap states any attempt by the UK Government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be “vigorously opposed”.

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A Section 30 order – part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster – was granted by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Russell says the UK Government could either agree that Holyrood already has the power to hold a second referendum or agree to a Section 30 order – something he said would put the question of legality “beyond any doubt”.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated his opposition to a second independence referendum.

As the roadmap document was published on Saturday, Russell said: “I firmly believe that Scotland’s referendum must be beyond legal challenge to ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.

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“This is the surest way by far to becoming an independent country.

“The referendum should be held after the pandemic, at a time to be decided by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. The SNP believes that should be in the early part of the new term.”

He continued: “Today I am setting out how I believe that right can be secured, and I welcome the discussion that will take place around this idea and others.

“But what is absolutely not for discussion is the fact that if Scotland votes for a legal referendum on May 6 this year, that is what it will get.

“The SNP Scottish Government will deliver such a referendum if re-elected and the proposals I am putting forward make that very clear.”

Around 1000 party members are expected to take part in the SNP’s national assembly tomorrow, a policy forum chaired by deputy leader Keith Brown.

Opposition parties accused the SNP of putting the push for independence ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland is deep in turmoil with thousands facing a cost of living crisis and thousands more people being lost to the virus.

“It is inexcusable that at this time of acute crisis the SNP seeks to put its plan for independence above everything else.

“The people of Scotland are being badly let down by an incompetent UK Government and a Scottish Government that seeks to exploit the current crisis for its own ends.

“To turn your back on those most in need by banging the drum for another independence referendum is an act of political hubris and is truly revealing of the Scottish Government’s true priorities.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted: “When 100% of our focus should be on recovering from the pandemic, the SNP are charging ahead with plans for another referendum.

“We won’t let them get their way.”

Scientists warn against easing lockdown amid mutant Covid

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says new variant of the virus may be associated with 'a higher degree of mortality'.

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The mutant coronavirus variant found in England may be more deadly than the original strain.

Scientists have warned there can be no early easing of lockdown rules after evidence the mutant coronavirus variant which emerged in the south-east of England may be more deadly than the original strain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.

He said the UK Government could have to bring in further restrictions on travel following a warning that other new variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to the vaccines that have been developed.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has reportedly written to chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty calling for the gap between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be reduced to six weeks.

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The private letter, seen by the BBC, said the current plans of people waiting up to 12 weeks for a second dose – which Health Secretary Matt Hancock said is supported by data from an Israeli study – are “difficult to justify”.

It said: “The absence of any international support for the UK’s approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession’s trust in the vaccination programme.”

At a No 10 news briefing on Friday, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said early evidence suggested the new UK variant could increase mortality by almost a third in men in their 60s.

His warning followed a briefing by scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that it was associated with an increased risk of death.

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It was already known that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original – leading to a tightening of restrictions across the UK from late December onwards.

Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, said the latest findings suggested it was responsible for the “unexpectedly high” numbers of hospital admissions, especially around London.

“While the recent results showing declining case numbers is good news, and suggest that the variant is controllable via existing measures, these results on deaths imply that burden in hospitals will continue to be high requiring a more prolonged period of restrictions,” he said.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a former government chief scientific adviser and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said even stricter measures may be needed if cases do not continue falling “at pace”.

“Decisions are going to have to be made on the basis of the evidence,” he told BBC News.

“If the evidence shows that the decrease in cases isn’t continuing, then clearly policymakers will have to consider much tougher measures.”

Johnson said the case numbers remained “forbiddingly high” and that it would be a mistake to unlock in England if it were to lead to “another big rebound” in the disease.

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On another bleak day, with a further 1,401 deaths across the UK of people who had tested for Covid-19 in the previous 28 days, there was some good news with evidence the various lockdown measures in place across the country were having an effect.

A sub-group of Sage said the reproduction number, the R, for coronavirus had fallen to below one across the UK, suggesting a retreating epidemic.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) put the R, which represents how many people an infected person will pass the virus on to, at 0.8 to 1.0, down from 1.2 to 1.3 the previous week.

It said the number of new infections was shrinking by between 1% and 4% every day.

However, Professor Whitty said the situation across the UK remained “extremely precarious”.

“A very small change and it could start taking off again from an extremely high base,” he said.

“If that happened again, we would be in really, really deep trouble.”

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, suggested the more serious concern was the evidence that the South African and Brazilian variants may be less susceptible to the vaccines.

“The other virus variants identified in South Africa and Brazil are more worrying as they carry more changes in the spike protein of the virus,” he said.

“It is important that we now determine the neutralising ability of antibodies against virus variants generated in response to vaccination and study the immune response in individuals infected with virus variants.”

Sir Patrick said the evidence remained uncertain and there was no sign either the South African or Brazilian variants had any “transmission advantages” over those in the UK and so would not be expected to spread more quickly or “take over”.

Meanwhile, a year has passed since the first people in Scotland were tested for coronavirus.

The Scottish Government confirmed on January 23, 2020, that five people were being examined after presenting with symptoms of the illness.

Two of them had been diagnosed with influenza after travelling to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

The first confirmed coronavirus patient in Scotland came on March 1, and was from Tayside.

On March 13, the first death related to the virus was recorded.

The UK entered full lockdown for the first time on March 23, but less than a month later Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood resigned after making two trips to her second home.

A route-map out of the coronavirus restrictions was first published by the Scottish Government on May 21.

This has been updated throughout the pandemic and includes rules on school closures, business operations and personal freedoms.

Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has seen the highest volumes for coronavirus infections and deaths – more than 31,700 and 863 respectively.

There have been almost 170,000 positive Covid-19 cases and 5,628 related deaths north of the border, as of Friday.

Scottish Government figures show 358,454 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination, and 4,689 have received the second dose

‘After my mum died of breast cancer, I found a lump’

Nicole Little was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 after her mother Celine died of the disease in 1999.

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Cancer: Nicole discovered she had breast cancer at just 27.

A breast cancer survivor whose mother died from the disease is urging people to support World Cancer Day. 

Nicole Little was 27 when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer after discovering a lump in her right breast. 

The ambulance dispatcher from Bathgate, West Lothian, carries the faulty BRCA1 gene, which is known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Specialists estimate that around 70% of women with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer by the age of 80.

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Nicole said: “Most people are lucky enough to grow up with a mum but I was so young when cancer took my mum away.

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s mother Celine died in 1999 from breast cancer.

“I still miss her every day and when it was me in the hospital room being told I had cancer, my first thought was for my mum. I feared at first it was like history repeating itself. 

“I said to the doctor, ‘that’s what killed my mum’. But the doctors quickly explained there have been huge advances in treatment for breast cancer since my mum went through it in the 1990s. 

“My mum didn’t know she had the faulty BRCA1 gene as tests weren’t available to her then. 

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“That’s so unfair. They’re so much better at treating breast cancer today thanks to research, something which gave me hope. 

“Now I want to support research, not just for me and for future generations but in honour of my mum too.”

Nicole was supported by her dad Andy Little when her hair began to fall out following chemotherapy sessions.

Nicole said: “Dad helped me shave off my hair as it was coming away in handfuls every time I went for a shower.

“At times I felt angry with my life but my dad was brilliant. At night when I couldn’t sleep he’d get up with me and we’d talk. Other times we’d just sit and do a jigsaw together. I felt like a child again. 

“Dad is bald. He’d say to me: ‘I always told you, bald is beautiful’.”

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s dad told her ‘bald is beautiful’ when her hair fell out following treatment.

Nicole’s best friend Kelsey Robertson also supported her through treatment. 

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The pair have been best friends for 21 years after meeting on Nicole’s first day at Balbardie Primary School.

Nicole started at the new school following the death of her mum Celine on January 21, 1999.

“The first thing I ever said to Kelsey in the classroom on that first day was, ‘Hello, my name is Nicole and my mum’s just died’,” Nicole said.

“It was quite an introduction but Kelsey looked after me from day one. Years later – after we’d grown up and Kelsey lost her own mum Christine to lung cancer aged 52 – I was there for Kelsey. 

“When I faced cancer, Kelsey was right there for me again. She made me a glass jar full of inspirational quotes. Every day I had the chance to pick out a quote from the jar. It made a big difference. She really has proved my guardian angel not once but twice.”

‘Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me.’

Nicole Little

Last year, Nicole endured an operation to remove her ovaries and just days after lockdown across Scotland began she had surgery to remove both her breasts, followed by reconstruction.

Now back at work, Nicole is in remission and believes going through cancer has changed her perspective on things.

Nicole said: “All my life I worried that I’d get breast cancer like my mum.

“I felt angry when it finally happened but I got through it and I’m still here. Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me. 

“Now I’d like to make them all proud by doing what I can to help other families have more time with their loved ones.”

Nicole is urging people to mark World Cancer Day by making a donation to Cancer Research UK or wearing the charity’s Unity band.  

“Just by wearing a Unity band or making a donation, everyone can help make a real difference to people with cancer,” she said.

The band is available online in three different colours and can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.

Unity bands can be purchased from the Cancer Research UK website.

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