James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)
I am glad to follow Mr. Smith and I agreed with much of what he had to say, particularly when he was talking about the great advances in cancer care in England in the past 10 or 20 years. However, quite frankly, it would have been rather surprising if those advances had not taken place. It would have been a scandal if we had been saying in today's debate that cancer services were precisely where they were in 1997, 1987, or 1967.
Although things have got a great deal better, I disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman when he became party political and seemed to indicate that that change was because of the Labour party. That was rather reminiscent of comments made by John Reid, who, at the Labour party conference in 2004, said:
"in the first 6 years of this government, the death rate from cancer is down by over 10 per cent . . . Isn't that just the sort of thing Labour came into government to do? . . . Thousands of real people walking the street who would not have survived under the last Tory Government."
That sort of remark—and one or two of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Oxford, East—is quite wrong. The achievements have been made thanks to scientists, clinicians and doctors.
I speak from personal experience. About this time last year, during the general election campaign, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were somewhat discombobulated by the surgeon, who told us that the operation would be on
That is why I welcome the positive tone of the motion. We are saying how well things have gone: a lot of money has been spent and a great deal has been achieved. However, the truth of the matter is that there is an enormous amount more to achieve. We do not know the cause of breast cancer. For example, why does it almost not exist in the far east? Is that something to do with health and diet? It probably is. Why is there a high incidence of breast cancer among left-handed women? We do not know, but it would be useful to find out. We need to spend more money on research. My wife happens to be left-handed, which is why I know that statistic.
On care, of course it is good that we have a target of people being seen by a specialist 14 days after they are first diagnosed by a GP, but the average waiting time in 1997 was only 11 days, so the much-vaunted 14-day target is not particularly useful. What it does result in, as I discovered when I accompanied my wife on that fateful day, is a waiting room packed full of people. I said to the surgeon, "Why are the waiting times so long? Why do we have to sit here from 8.30 am to 2 pm before being seen by you?" He said, "That is to achieve the two-week target. We cannot lay down when people are diagnosed. They have to be seen within two weeks and the clinic has to be jammed full to achieve that target. If we were allowed a certain flexibility in terms of days, it might be easier to organise timetables better." The targets may sometimes have the wrong results and are not all that they are cracked up to be.
We have to see some improvements in waiting times for treatments. My wife heard today that she will receive her radiotherapy within four weeks, but many women are still waiting for six weeks or longer. Surgery and chemotherapy tend to be done in good time, but there is a long delay on radiotherapy, even though it is an important part of the treatment.
There has been a terrific muddle with the prescribing of drugs. We have heard a great deal about herceptin, but the same situation will apply over the years to come to a variety of other groundbreaking new cancer drugs. We need to find a way in which NICE can license and approve them speedily. We cannot have another situation like the one last October when the Secretary of State encouraged women at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer event—I was there—to think that herceptin would become available, only for them to discover that it will become available only if there is plenty of money to pay for it, which there is not.
The experience of Anne Marie Rogers, in my neighbouring constituency of North Swindon, is a vehement comment on the awful effects on women who are discovering that they may face a shortened life as a result not of anything to do with clinicians, but of a shortage of money and of Government decisions. An awful lot needs to be done in that respect and in relation to radiotherapy. In particular, an awful lot needs to be done on research.
I pay tribute to the very high standard of care that my family have benefited from in the last 12 months, and I think that we see that across the book. I do not accept that that is anything whatever to do with the Labour Government. It seems to me that science is developing quickly and that wonderful support and services are provided by doctors, nurses and researchers in our hospitals, and I pay tribute to them. I very much hope that, 10 years from now, we will have seen the statistics improve even further, and that when a Conservative Secretary of State is standing at that Dispatch Box he does not fall into the easy trap of claiming that as a Conservative victory.