Cancer Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 8th December 2016.

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Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth 3:21 pm, 8th December 2016

I am most grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate.

I listened with great interest to Jim Fitzpatrick talking about his experiences of smoking. I gave up smoking before a flight with a parliamentary delegation coming back from Bahrain nearly 15 years ago, and I have never looked back. One of the drivers that made me give up smoking was a conversation with the then Member for Manchester, Withington—I would call him an hon. Friend, but he was an Opposition Member—who is now Lord Bradley. Like the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, I remember smoking in the House. I remember lighting up in a Standing Committee and being reprimanded, but we could smoke in the Library Room C then. I offered the then Member for Manchester, Withington a cigarette in the Tea Room—we could smoke anywhere then, as well as in the Smoking Room—and he said, “David, no thanks. I’ve got an emphysema hospital in my constituency.” That really hit home.

Nic Dakin is nodding. May I pay tribute to him? He was at the Britain against Cancer conference on Tuesday, which I attended as an officer of the all-party group on cancer. He has served on that group for much longer than I have, and he chaired the meeting in the absence of my hon. Friend Mr Baron. Other hon. Members have paid tribute to my hon. Friend, and of course to his wife, who is undergoing treatment at the moment. I want to say what a great job my hon. Friend has done to drive this agenda on the Conservative Benches. It just shows that if you follow something you believe in in this House, you can get dramatic results.

As a politician, I often think that we should be able to sum up something, such as a very wordy report, in just a phrase or a sentence. That may be because of my background in advertising many years ago. Those dramatic results were clearly illustrated by Simons Stevens, when he said that in 1999, 60% of cancer patients survived, but in 2014, the figure was 70%. We went over some of those figures, which I thought were truly remarkable and really very encouraging.

I want to focus on something else that Simon Stevens said, which the hon. Member for Scunthorpe has mentioned. He announced £200 million of funding at the conference:

“The £200m fund has been set up to encourage local areas to find new and innovative ways to diagnose cancer earlier, improve the care for those living with cancer and ensure each cancer patient gets the right care for them.”

That includes aftercare treatment. What do we do when a patient has had chemotherapy and then there is nothing else—they have not been given any other options, so they feel depressed and unhappy?

That is where my main experience in this House comes in, as I have worked on integrated healthcare—holistic medicine, I suppose—with the all-party parliamentary group on integrated healthcare for nearly 30 years. I have been an officer of the group for nearly 25 years, and have chaired it for quite a while. It feels almost as if our time has come. It has now been clearly recognised that part of the cancer package should be a wide range of support. We can see that all over the country. I was at LOROS last week, which is where very ill people in Leicestershire go for their last few days. A range of different therapies were being offered there. That is happening not just in my constituency but in many others.

I return to the conference mentioned by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe—[Interruption.] I see he has now been promoted to the Front Bench. That is the great thing about the Opposition—the Front-Bench team changes so quickly that we can never be sure where any hon. Members are. I remember that when I was a young Member the advice I was given was always to sit in the same place in the House so that the Speaker knew where you were. In that case, it is a wonder that any Opposition Members get called at all, because they are always moving around the Benches. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe has clearly been promoted this afternoon, so congratulations.

One battle I have had over the years has been with the medical establishment about what should be included in treatments on the health service. It has been an ongoing battle against vested interests in the medical establishment who do not want to see money leaking from their own particular silos. That is down to scarce resources. One of the most interesting stalls at the Britain against Cancer conference on Tuesday was about cancer detection dogs. Even I gasped when I saw it—my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, who has also had experience of cancer and has contributed so much in her short time in this House to addressing cancer problems, is nodding and smiling. Just as we have dogs in this House—I will not say when or where they go—to detect things that may have been placed here by people who do not particularly agree with what we do, so it is possible to use dogs to detect cancer. If that is possible, I suspect that the authorities have not run double-blind placebo-controlled trials to establish whether it works. It works on the basis of experience, because the dogs are trained to detect by smell when people have developed cancer.

On the great battleground with the orthodox proponents of orthodox medicine the battle line has in recent years been drawn on something called evidence-based medicine. We are told that in the health service medicine should always be evidence-based, and nothing should be used unless it meets that criterion. I had a look at that, and got the Library to look the papers up. It goes back to 1992 and a statement by Professor Sackett that various other academics then ran with—there was a Professor Guyatt also. But when saying how important evidence-based medicine was, Professor Sackett also said:

“Good doctors use both individual clinical expertise and the best available external evidence, and neither alone is enough. Without clinical expertise, practice risks becoming tyrannized by external evidence, for even excellent external evidence may be inapplicable to or inappropriate for an individual patient. Without current best external evidence, practice risks becoming rapidly out of date, to the detriment of patients.”

It is hardly a secret that we were discussing Brexit in the House yesterday and that we have been very much involved in the whole debate since the summer—and for many of us, a long time before that. One problem in healthcare in relation to the EU has been the imposition of directives on the UK that have negatively impacted support services in healthcare. The traditional herbal medicines directive requires Chinese medical practitioners to show 30 years’ usage of a particular medicine in the UK, or 15 years under other circumstances, and bans a whole range of complex preparations freely available, and produced to very high standards in modern factories, in the People’s Republic of China.

Before I came to the Chamber this afternoon, I was at a Chinese medical clinic. I practise what I preach and have acupuncture once a month. I take Chinese herbal medicine and I think it has kept me away from antibiotics, steroids and other drugs for a good few years. I talked to practitioners about what they are able to do for cancer patients. There is a very long list of types of cancer that can be treated using traditional Chinese herbal medicine: cervical cancer, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, HIV, colon cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. The list goes on.

I believe that several of my constituents are alive today because they have used Chinese medicine. It strengthens one’s immune system and is very effective after cancer treatment. It deals with particular symptoms. I asked the practitioner this afternoon what conditions she would expect to be able to alleviate using Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. She said: tiredness, lack of energy, fevers, headaches, hypertension, dry skin, seizures and involuntary muscular twitching.

We have to broaden the scope of services available on the health service to help to meet patient demand. I hope the £200 million fund will mean a further widening of the scope of services available. My hon. Friend the Minister, who is new to his post, could do a lot worse than contact the head of the Professional Standards Authority, Harry Cayton. Harry Cayton’s organisation oversees the regulation of 23 different health organisations, including about 20,000 providers. If we go to the trouble of regulating different therapies, or having oversight of that regulation, why on earth do we not use it? What is the point of having a statutory regulator that checks the oversight when we do not actually use its services? That is a great mistake.

My hon. Friend the Minister could do a lot worse than go around the country and look at some of the practices that help cancer patients in remission. One of the best is the award-winning Velindre cancer centre in south Wales. Each year, it sees over 5,000 new referrals and about 50,000 new out-patient appointments. It employs over 670 staff and has an annual budget of over £49 million. The money for that service, which is widely used by doctors, comes not from the Department but from charitable donations. At that centre, they use reflexology, reiki healing, which I have studied over the years, aromatherapy, and breathing and relaxation techniques, and they have spectacular results.

Another wonderful clinic that my hon. Friend would do well to visit—it is a few stops on the District line from here, in Fulham—is the Breast Cancer Haven. It offers a range of therapies to combat stress, and I have attended its sessions. It is wonderful to see people suffering from breast and other cancers being given hope that chemotherapy is not the end of the road and that there is something out there to support them.

Another wonderful organisation of which my hon. Friend should be aware, and which was at the cancer conference on Tuesday, is Penny Brohn UK, the living well with cancer organisation. It has worked hard to produce a report on the long-term impact of its living well course, and the results from the five-year follow-up show a high approval rating among patients. The figures are staggering: 97% of patients reported making positive lifestyle changes after the course; 75% said they had maintained the positive changes for four to five years or were still maintaining them; and 85% said the living well course had enabled them to self-manage their health more effectively.

My hon. Friend, being well aware of Government policy, will know that patient choice is, according to the Health Secretary in the last Parliament, at the heart of the health service. If we are to give patients choice, we have to give them the provision to choose from. I was a member of the Health Committee for the whole of the last Parliament—I chaired it for a while when Stephen Dorrell stood down, before my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston took over—as well as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, both of which looked at the complex problems of polypharmacy and polymorbidity, which is jargon for too many people taking too many drugs and nobody really knowing what those drugs do. We need to reduce that.

There is a crisis in this country with antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance—we are not getting new antibiotics into the pipeline—and part of the problem is that we are trying to create new drugs while also trying to reduce antibiotic use. There is a range of other therapies that can help patients stay away from antibiotics. I will not get called to order, Madam Deputy Speaker; I know that this is a cancer debate, but a lot of alternative therapies—I will get to the H word, homeopathy, in a minute—offer options at a time when mainstream medicine is running out of solutions.

I have always championed the cause of homeopathy in this House, and I want to relate that strictly to cancer this afternoon. Homeopaths do not claim to cure cancer, but my goodness they can assist people who have had cancer and who are in remission by helping them to adjust their moods and to deal with anxiety and sleeplessness. It is a great tragedy that a tiny number of people, whom I regard at best as foolish and at worst as wicked, are trying to erase the tiny sum of money—£500 million—spent on homeopathy in the health service. Without looking at the benefits, they argue that it is a waste of money.

We have seen the pressure on institutions at Liverpool and elsewhere. What could be more stupid than to attack a medical system that is widely used in France, that voters went for in Switzerland, and that is used across the world, including in India and Brazil? What is the problem here?

I was in Toulouse to look at British Aerospace work recently, and I found a homeopathic chemist right in the middle of the main square there. Some 90% of pregnant women in France use homeopathy. The Minister must not be bludgeoned by the tiny number of people who use legal threats and resist it. Simon Stevens is now coming up with new money for aftercare for cancer, so we need to look out of the box and consider new possibilities. We are not even looking at some possibilities that are orthodox.

As I said, I am an officer of the cancer group, and I chaired a meeting the other day to hear anxious and anguished professors of medicine from this country talking about a new mainstream treatment called Target for breast cancer. Target is about putting a small device the size of a tangerine on the end of a cricket stump into an incision in the chest. The chemotherapy treats the tumour and not all the other organs in the chest. The professors saw this as a great breakthrough. It was invented in Britain, and it is widely available in Europe. How come NICE has only given it draft clearance? What is going on? Professors of medicine are saying that this is hugely important, yet we are not actually dealing with it.