Cancer Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 8th December 2016.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 3:45 pm, 8th December 2016

It is always a pleasure to debate these issues. I commend Nic Dakin for his presentation and for setting the scene so well, and, in his absence, I commend Mr Baron. I hope and pray that his wife is keeping much better. I know that if he were here, he would be making a valuable contribution. He may be watching the debate from afar, but, in any event, we hope that everything goes well for him.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us an opportunity to take part in this debate on a Thursday afternoon. I also thank Henry Smith, who is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer, and who chairs it very well. He was instrumental in setting up the group, and we thank him for that. We are all very pleased to work alongside him, and to join in his endeavours.

As we know, the latest figures provided by Macmillan Cancer Support indicate that by the end of the current Parliament, one in two people will suffer from a form of cancer during their lifetimes. It is a sobering thought that, technically speaking, 50% of the 12 or so Members who are present in the Chamber now could be in that position in the next few years.

It is clear that improvements in diagnosis and treatment of the disease mean that more people are surviving it, or living for longer with it, and, as a consequence, 2.5 million people are living with or beyond it in the UK today. My father was a cancer survivor on three occasions. David Tredinnick mentioned diet, and it is true that diet cannot be ignored as an element that we can use. As I have said, my dad—who passed away last year—survived cancer three times, and he lived for some 38 years after he was first diagnosed. He was very careful about his diet, and I believe that that was a factor in his survival. The doctors told him to be careful with his diet. However, he survived for main three reasons: the skill of the surgeons, the care of the nurses, and the fact that he was a man of great faith: the Prayer for God’s People was very important to him.

Nevertheless, the sheer scale of the problem of cancer demands a co-ordinated and proactive strategy. The Minister knows that I hold him in the utmost respect, as does every one of us in the House, but I must say to him that we need a strategy that will cover the whole of that problem. I am going to make some constructive comments, and I am convinced that his response will be the one that we hope to hear.

There is more that can and, indeed, must be done. It would be remiss of us not to mention the charities with which we are all involved, or of which we all know. There is Marie Curie, which does wonderful work, there is Action on Cancer, and there is Macmillan Cancer Support, and I am only mentioning those that I have direct contact with. There are also church groups. Elim church in Newtownards, in my constituency, has a cancer group that meets every Friday. There are different groups that go to different places. I think that faith is very important when it comes to this issue.

I raised this issue during the debate on NHS funding, because cancer funding is an essential component of that. Macmillan has said that about one in four people living with or beyond cancer face disability or poor health following their treatment, and that that can remain the case for many years after treatment has ended. We should sometimes consider the care needs of cancer survivors who must face disabilities and a different lifestyle with which their families must also come to terms. It is vital that they are able to access the best care that is right for them when they need it, and to ensure that the NHS is set up to meet the changing needs of cancer patients. We have to have an NHS that responds to patients’ needs. Not only would this increase the quality and experience of survival, but it would ensure that resources put into tackling the disease are invested in the most efficient way. We must closely co-operate with cancer charities and patients to ensure that the NHS can respond in the best way possible.

This efficient use of money is key for the “Five Year Forward View” projections, indicating that expenditure on cancer services will need to grow by about 9% a year, reaching £13 billion by 2020-21. However, £13 billion of spending in 2020-21 and increased investment through the “Five Year Forward View” is what is required just to stand still. So while the figures look good, the needs indicate that we will have to look at the figures and the available funding again. This level of spending is likely to yield outcomes that continue to be below average when compared with similar international healthcare systems.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe referred in his opening speech to international care and the need for us to be batting above our position on the international stage, and I agree. Now is therefore the time to ensure that money is spent as effectively as possible to give England and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland a better chance to achieve world-class cancer outcomes and deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitment. It is clear that we need greater funding of research, and while charities do a wonderful job, and we appreciate them very much, there is most certainly a Government role that can be better fulfilled.

All Members have received the “Together for short lives” briefing, and it prompts me to highlight to the Minister the fact that there are barriers to research into children’s palliative care, which is a subject close to all our hearts when we have children of our own, and grandchildren as many of us now have. Despite improving survival rates, cancer is the leading cause of death in children, teenagers and young adults. The survival rate is significantly lower for teenagers and young adults than for children for several cancer types, including bone tumours and soft tissue sarcomas.

About 250 children aged zero to 14 lose their lives to cancer every year in the UK. In children aged 1 to 14, this is around one fifth of deaths. For teenagers and young adults, cancer accounts for around 310 deaths per year in the UK. I make a plea for children’s palliative care. I am sure that the civil servants will be looking for some notes to pass to the Minister to let him know what has been done, but I want to know what will be in done in future as well.

The cancer strategy recommended that by September 2016 a proposal should be developed to ensure that all children, teenagers and young adults diagnosed with cancer are asked at diagnosis for consent for their data and a tissue sample to be collected for use in future research studies. Data collection is important so that we can look to the future by studying the information and responding in such a way to give better help down the road. The strategy also states that NHS England should work with research funders to make best use of these resources in the future. What action can the Minister take to make sure that NHS England works to remove barriers to including children and young people with cancer in research?

Smoking has been mentioned, which reminds me of my first cigarette. I think I was five. My grandfather smoked Gallahers; there was no filter in them, and they were the strongest cigarettes in the world. Wee boys look up to their grandfathers, and I thought, “My Grandad is a great fella and he smokes away at those cigarettes. I wonder what it’s like.” I pestered my grandfather to let me try one, and he said, “Take a deep breath.” I did, and it would not be untrue to say that I was the colour of these Green Benches, and was violently sick. I never had any wish ever again to smoke a cigarette; if that is how to learn the lesson, I certainly learned it.

The Minister will know that I have a deep interest in Queen’s University Belfast and in the great research work that it does. It is world renowned for its medical research and especially for the research it carries out in the field of cancer. It is innovative, and it is looking into new drugs and medications to address cancers. Yes, we have survival rates of 50% or more, but we are still looking for the one drug that will cure all cancers, and to do that, we need research. I know that this is not the Minister’s direct responsibility, but I know that he has as deep an interest in this matter as I do.

The evidence-enabled outcomes research to inform precision oncology innovation adoption by health systems that is pioneered by Queen’s highlights how Northern Ireland punches above its weight in this rapidly evolving area, which is providing us with new approaches to prevent and treat this killer disease and preserve and improve the lives of cancer survivors. This success can and must be replicated by making greater funding available for research facilities and grants designated to changing the way in which cancer is approached and dealt with.

We have only to think of just how far the diagnosis of cancer has come in 50 years. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe spoke earlier of the achievements in this field, and also mentioned how far we still have to go. Queen’s University has partnerships with local businesses, and many foreign students come there to do their degrees and contribute to the research. There are also partnerships between Queen’s and universities here on the mainland, involving a wonderful group of universities and people making these things happen. They are making a difference through their research into cancer and the drugs that we need.

If we are to treat cancer successfully, we can do so only by adopting a continually updated approach. We have the initiative and desire to do this, but we need to ensure that the funding is in place as well. Governments need to take a positive interest in providing financial resources to ensure that everything is done to find the ultimate cure for cancer. Any strategy must make that clear, and the Minister must ensure that the necessary funding is available and enhanced when we negotiate Brexit. Brexit is mentioned in every debate we have now, but it is a fact of life. We have moved on, but we need assurances in this regard. I think we are having a debate on 19 December on the effect of Brexit on our universities.

We also need to address the postcode lottery in relation to the availability of cancer drugs. Again, this is not a criticism of the Minister—I do not do that—but it is a fact that cancer drugs are much more readily available in some parts of the UK than in others. In the past, central Government have supported the regional and devolved Administrations with funding for drugs. Is that anywhere in the equation at the moment? What discussions does he have with the regional and devolved Administrations—the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—on agreeing cancer strategies and bids for resources?

A cancer strategy is a difficult one to negotiate, and it seems as though there can never be enough investment. We have to ask ourselves certain questions. Are we investing in the right things and producing the best outcomes? Are we sowing seeds for the future, and are we doing the best we can with what we have? It is up to each of us to raise these questions, and, for my part, I feel we must set aside more, do more and achieve more for the one in two people who will be effected by cancer.