Just before I ask Sarah Jones to open the debate, it is my honour, privilege and joy to welcome Baroness Jowell—Tessa Jowell—together with David, Matthew, Jess and others to the Under-Gallery, in what will be an extremely powerful and, I hope, constructive debate. Can I say to you, Tessa—and I say it on behalf, I am sure, of all colleagues—that I hope you will feel fortified and inspired by the warm embrace of parliamentary love which you are about to experience? It is now my pleasure to call Sarah Jones to open the debate.
I beg to move,
That this House
pays tribute to the work of Baroness Tessa Jowell in her campaign to help people with brain tumours to live better lives for longer;
recognises the Government’s increased funding for research;
and calls on the Government to increase the sharing of health data and promote greater use of adaptive clinical trials.
May I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, after what has been a very busy week, for being here today in the Chair? I know you have two interests here today. One, obviously, is your friendship with Tessa, but there is also your interest in brain tumours, having set up the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours. We are all extremely grateful that you are here.
I also thank the co-sponsors of the debate, James Brokenshire and Jo Swinson—unfortunately, she cannot be here today—and all the Members who helped us secure the debate. I also thank all those who have gone before us in the all-party parliamentary group—people who have spoken many times in this place with greater knowledge than I on brain tumours and cancers. I also thank the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth, for being here today—it means a lot to us all.
This is a really important debate about cancer. My father died of cancer—of mesothelioma—last June, three days after I was elected to this place. No one here is not touched by cancer. However, I want to start by talking about Tessa and to tell Members a story about her.
To say that Tessa is determined in the face of adversity is a major understatement. In early 2001, she had a thought: that we should bid for the Olympic and Paralympic games. Now, if hon. Members remember, we had had the Millennium Dome, we had had Wembley stadium, we were 10th, I think, in the medals table in 2000, and we had been even worse the time before. We had quite a low opinion of ourselves in terms of our ability to construct and in terms of sport.
However, Tessa read everything there was to read, and she convinced herself that it was a good idea. She then set about convincing everybody else. She was faced by a Cabinet and a public who had no faith in this idea at all. She went round every single member of the Cabinet, one by one, and personally persuaded them that this was a good idea. She turned the entire Cabinet to her view.
She then threw herself into the bid, making sure that every single diaspora community and every sports group felt that this was exactly what we should be doing. She went to the Mongolians’ national day archery demonstration; she went to the Indian craft and shooting competition. She supported community groups all over the country. She would go and talk to a group of children about how they would directly benefit, and then she would dash across the country and deliver a wordy lecture to a load of economists about the evidence base for sporting-led regeneration.
In the midst of this mayhem, she would go on holiday, but not like the rest of us would go on holiday. She would take herself off to Mumbai, where she volunteered for a charity that taught sport and life skills to children who were homeless in the slums of Mumbai. She was offered a hotel room, but she slept in a tent. Two weeks later, she would come back, after spending every day in the boiling heat helping other people, and she would feel refreshed and do round 2 of the Olympics, and we all remember what an absolutely glorious time that was, how proud of our country we were and what an achievement it was.
Now, Tessa has a new course, which has been brought about by her personal experience of a brain tumour. She has thrown herself into the campaign for people to live longer lives with cancer with exactly the same relentless optimism and total bloody doggedness as she did with the Olympics. When faced with this woman who walks through walls, never gives up and always gets what she wants, we could almost feel sorry for cancer.
Last May, Tessa was diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour, called GBM, or glioblastoma. This type of cancer, like many brain cancers, is very aggressive and very difficult to treat. Life expectancy for patients is very poor and has not improved in decades. Some 60% of people diagnosed will die within one year, and yet only 2% of the funding for research goes to study brain tumours.
In January, Tessa led a very moving debate in the House of Lords, which I am sure we all watched. She talked bravely and openly about the reality of life with a brain tumour, but she talked of hope; she talked of hope for cancer patients across the world—hope that the revolution we need is close at hand, and hope that we can live well together with cancer. I am sure that that debate had a big impact on us all—people across the country and colleagues across both sides of the House. Today’s motion recognises the tireless work that Tessa has done on this so far. It calls on the Government to improve the use of patient data to drive forward medical advances, and to promote greater use of adaptive clinical trials.
There are lots of reasons for the absence of breakthroughs in brain cancer treatment. Of course, it is partly down to resources but, as Tessa has said, it is not just about money. We need to radically transform the way in which we develop new treatments, two aspects of which I want to mention today: clinical trials and data sharing.
There is a long history of failure in traditional clinical trials for brain tumours and no vital drugs have been developed for 50 years. The proportion of brain cancer patients taking part in a clinical trial is less than half the average across all cancers. Some 97% of brain cancer patients want to share their data to help to accelerate research, yet we still do not have a proper national brain tumour registry.
After her Lords debate, Tessa led an expert roundtable that brought together senior figures from the Government, NHS, industry and research. It was a powerful meeting that set out the key priorities and the innovations that we need. The event helped to secure some really important wins for brain tumour patients, including commitments from NHS England to include people who had been treated for brain cancer in the roll-out of the cancer quality of life metric. Public Health England agreed to work with brain tumour charities to explore greater access to data. The event also coincided with the announcement of £45 million of research funding into brain tumours, supported by both Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health. It is a testament to Tessa that she can invoke such love and respect from colleagues of all sides and still be at the forefront of this process. Only this week she was in the Department of Health at the first meeting of the steering group that is looking into this, chaired by Lord O’Shaughnessy. But there is still a long way to go.
The Government are currently considering a raft of recommendations around these issues. I have two specific asks. First, this situation can only change through a global community working together collaboratively. This international movement exists; there are people who want to do this. We just need the structures in place and the barriers removed.
Secondly, we need a clear and conscious shift to new, more innovative models of treatment and care. We need a culture of research within the NHS, with wider access to adaptive clinical trials. The Cambridge model at Addenbrooke’s Hospital has seen patient involvement in research grow to 80%. That should not be the exception; it should be the norm.
My hon. Friend is making an eloquent and remarkable speech. As I cannot stay for the whole debate, I hope that I may—with the indulgence of the Chair—make a brief intervention to say that Tessa Jowell is an inspiration to us all. On behalf of the shadow Cabinet, I pay tribute to her today. I know that all Members of the House find her bravery extraordinary. She has achieved so much, and we will work constructively with the Government to implement many of the recommendations that my hon. Friend is outlining.
I thank my hon. Friend for those lovely words and for the commitment to all work together, as, of course, we must.
Before I draw my speech to a close, I want to mention one more person by name. Jack Lloyd is 10 and lives in New Addington, in my constituency of Croydon Central. Jack has a brain tumour that is inoperable. His tumour was initially treated successfully but, sadly, another developed. Jack and his parents are facing the worst horror imaginable. He was only diagnosed after his mother, Claire, typed “child with persistent vomiting” into Google, and the HeadSmart campaign run by the Brain Tumour Charity came up. Claire told me that she did not for one second think that having a brain tumour was even a possibility for children; it was not something that she had come across before. In fact, brain tumours are the single biggest cause of cancer death among children. Some 7,000 children and young people are currently living with the disease. Jack’s experience is not unique. Almost half of patients with brain tumours are diagnosed by emergency admission, compared with only 10% of cancers overall.
Jack and his family are strong, and they are doing everything they can to give him the best possible time in the time that they have. He was a mascot for Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in March. Claire has other surprises planned, but I do not want to say what they are in case Jack is listening. Jack’s family have worked with the Brain Tumour Charity to spread the message that tumours exist; that people need to know more; and that we need to improve funding, data sharing, and developing new treatments. Claire’s message to this place is that her son cannot die in vain. That is a powerful call to action—and one that I know we will all hear.
It is knowing Tessa, having worked for her on the Olympics and since being her friend—she helped me get to this place and gave me massive support—that brought me to the issue we are debating today. There is something uniquely pervasive about cancer. But perhaps it is precisely because it is so pervasive that there is hope, because the battle is personal to so many people. That is why I am confident that, with the good beginning that the Government have made, real progress will be made today and beyond.
I know that the debate we are about to have will be difficult. People will be talking about their personal experience and the lives of their constituents. I know the debate will be comradely, because that is what Tessa would want—she always believes the best in people and never assumes the worst. I know that some of what we say will be hard. This will be an emotional debate, but one rooted in determination: for Tessa; for my dad; for Jack.
I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for enabling the House to debate these important issues this afternoon. It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Jones, who introduced the debate in such a powerful and effective way.
I do not think that anyone who watched Baroness Tessa Jowell’s speech could have been anything but moved by her powerful and poignant words. I know it moved me, having got to know, like and respect Tessa over many years for her work in Government and in the House, and for the way she is able to bring people together from across politics with a very constructive, focused and tenacious approach just to get things done.
The timing of Tessa’s speech also touched a particular chord with me, coming as it did just a week or so after my own surgery to remove a tumour from my lung. It was a brave, humbling and inspiring speech in equal measure, with her very personal description of her brain tumour and the impact it has had on her, her call to action to secure more funding for brain tumour research, and her stressing the need for more effective clinical trials and the joining up of analysis and data.
But fundamentally, what shone through in Tessa’s words was a profound message of hope—hope for the future; hope in the face of her own physical adversity—and her unstinting passion to secure positive change for the benefit of others. So many debates in this House or in the Lords, while passionate and important, can sometimes appear sterile, perhaps a little arcane, with discussions of statistics, policy or implementation of points of law. Tessa’s speech cut through all that to focus on the human condition: the life well led, what gives it meaning and purpose, and the overriding power of human kindness, compassion and love.
Tessa’s campaign has already made a difference. I warmly welcome the positive response from the Government by the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and Members across Government to make change happen.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. I wonder whether, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, I could follow the shadow Health Secretary in commending Tessa’s campaigning. Most people come to this place hoping to leave a legacy, but she has left not just one legacy, but two—her amazing achievements with London 2012 and her amazing campaigning on cancer. It is our privilege to take part in this debate and our duty to act on what she says.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for underlining what can and will come out of this debate, which is continued momentum and a sense of purpose to bring about real change. Like the debate in the House of Lords, today’s debate should be a day not for political difference, but for how, together, we can all play our part in securing positive change to ensure that we use the best science to help beat cancer, and to offer the best support to those living with or beyond the disease.
After nearly eight years as the Member of Parliament for Old Bexley and Sidcup, this is my first opportunity to address the House from the Back Benches. While this is most certainly not a maiden speech, I hope colleagues will understand if I place some of my comments in a very local context. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Lisa and Matt Taylor, the parents of young Olivia Taylor. In January, when Olivia was 17 months old, she was diagnosed with a large slow-growing glioma tumour, which is located at the centre of her brain. By February, Olivia had lost her sight and many other cognitive functions.
Olivia is no longer able to know whether it is night or day, impacting on sleeping patterns not just for her, but for the rest of the family. Because of its location, sadly the tumour is inoperable, and Olivia is receiving chemotherapy to keep the tumour stable and to help retain as much of her quality of life as possible. She is a very brave little girl and clearly surrounded by so much love.
As a parent, I find that a heart-breaking story, and the family face an incredible strain in meeting Olivia’s immediate needs and those that lie ahead. Despite all this, I have been struck by their hugely positive outlook in ensuring that Olivia has happy memories and that she has access to all the right support. They have launched a campaign with the hashtag #KeepOliviaSmiling to help to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and the need for early diagnosis.
Brain tumours are the biggest cause of preventable or treatable blindness in children and the family believe that if the signs of Olivia’s tumour had been spotted sooner, her sight might have been saved. The campaign is also intended to help raise funds to support future treatment for Olivia, which might not be available in the UK. The family have highlighted to me the need for better join-up between hospitals on available treatments, accessibility to international trials and the need for greater research in childhood brain tumours, which can develop in different ways from adult tumours.
I warmly welcome the additional £45 million investment in brain tumour research, which has been committed by the Government in conjunction with Cancer Research UK. I hope that in winding up the debate the Minister will be able to commit to ensuring that part of that funding is used to advance our understanding of, and deliver new treatments specifically for, brain tumours in children. Making a difference in individual cases such as Olivia’s is precisely what today’s debate is all about. I hope that, in some way, today we too can help to keep Olivia smiling.
There is no doubt that the science and analysis of cancer are advancing rapidly. Increasing amounts of patient data are being generated, as well as much greater recognition of the ways cancer develops and the individual mutations that can cause one tumour to behave in a completely different way from another. The challenge, as we heard from the hon. Member for Croydon Central, is co-ordinating the data in a consistent way that leads to more effective treatments and therapies.
One example of that is genetic analysis to help predict a cancer’s evolutionary path. I commend Cancer Research UK on its support of the innovative and significant work to examine the genetic make-up of individual tumours. I recently gave permission for a sample of my own tumour to form part of this molecular research. I hope that in some small way that might add to our understanding of the disease.
Such work is clearly leading to much clearer analysis not just of the nature of individual cancers, but of treatments and immunotherapies that are more likely to be effective for the patient. Rather than talking generally about cancer in a particular organ, we are increasingly able to talk about the nature of a specific tumour for that individual. That is a potential game changer, but it also raises new challenges and potential restrictions that must be overcome if we are to make the necessary progress.
I believe that the UK can be a world leader in this new era of precision medicine, driving forward innovative research to deliver new treatment options, but that will take time, when time for many is a precious commodity. That is why the use of adaptive clinical trials remains important. Yes, there are existing routes for new drug treatments to be made available, such as the early access to medicines scheme, and the cancer drugs fund, but we should be prepared to be more radical.
I pay tribute to the work of the incredible people in our NHS who deliver the care and compassion that Tessa Jowell rightly highlighted. They are amazing, and having received significant NHS treatment and support over recent months, I know just how special they are. I also want to recognise the huge impact that charities such as Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Brain Tumour Charity, and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation have on the lives of thousands of people.
We need to do more as part of the broader cancer strategy, and I will return to a number of topics on another occasion, but we should be positive about what we can achieve, the difference that can be made and the outcomes that can be secured if we work together. In connection with that, some of Tessa Jowell’s own words from her speech in the House of Lords bear repeating:
“I hope that this debate will give hope to other cancer patients like me, so that we can live well together with cancer—not just dying of it—all of us, for longer.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 788, c. 1170.]
That inspiring message is one that we should all take to heart.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Jones on securing this important debate, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it time. It is a pleasure to follow James Brokenshire, who so powerfully shared his own experience of cancer and cancer treatment.
I pay tribute to my friend and predecessor as MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, Baroness Tessa Jowell of Brixton, who has inspired this debate. When I was selected as the Labour party candidate for the 2015 election after Tessa had announced that she was stepping down, four words seemed to come instantly to everyone’s lips as I went around the constituency speaking to people: “big shoes to fill”. They certainly were.
As a constituency MP, Tessa helped and supported countless individuals and families facing the most difficult of circumstances with compassion and tenacity. My strong memory of my first experiences of doorstep campaigning in the constituency is of how many people offered, unprompted, their gratitude that Tessa had helped them, often going above and beyond the call of duty. More than that, Tessa worked to deliver lasting change for our communities in Dulwich and West Norwood, by campaigning to secure investment to deliver not one, not two, but five brilliant new schools in the constituency. As a Labour Minister, she established the Sure Start programme, which was the fruit of her lifelong passion for supporting parents and babies to address disadvantage early and to enable every child to thrive. Sure Start centres made a difference across the country, including in Dulwich and West Norwood, where they are still highly valued by parents and carers. Through sheer inspirational determination, Tessa also delivered the greatest celebration of London and Londoners that we have ever known—the 2012 Olympics.
Across everything she did as our MP, Tessa established a clear and principled way of doing politics, based on listening to, engaging with and responding to the concerns of local residents; identifying and working on the issues that matter to all of us and that bring people together; using the currency of personal stories, compassion and kindness rather than trading in statistics and cheap political shots; and, most of all, seeking to empower people and to tackle disadvantage and adversity head-on. It is therefore no surprise to Tessa’s many friends in Parliament, in Dulwich and West Norwood, across London and beyond that she is now using the very difficult personal circumstances of her brain tumour diagnosis to work to make a difference for other people in the same circumstances. It is no surprise, but it is remarkable in a situation where many of us would be focused only on our immediate loved ones, and it is extremely brave.
My own family knows the pain of brain tumour diagnosis. In 1983, at the age of 66, just a year after he had retired from his career as a bus driver and spent his life savings on a small house with an indoor toilet and a garden where he could grow his beloved dahlias, my grandfather George Hayes died from a brain tumour. Seven years later, in a situation so statistically rare that doctors had to be persuaded to take her symptoms seriously, my grandmother, George’s wife Olive, also passed away from a brain tumour, at the age of 71. We know as a family the fear and anxiety that such a serious diagnosis brings, the hopelessness of finding that there is very little that can be done, and the pain of watching loved ones deteriorate and lose capacity at the hands of such a cruel disease.
My first thought when I learned the horrible news of Tessa’s diagnosis was of grandparents George and Olive, and my second thought was that the treatment and prognosis for brain tumours must be much better now than it was then. I looked up the statistics, and was shocked to find that, although brain tumour survival rates have doubled since the 1970s, it is only from 6% to 14% compared with a 10-year survival rate of 50% across all types of cancer in the UK. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumour research. As a consequence of this lack of funding, there is a shortage of drugs, and patient participation in clinical trials for brain tumour patients is extremely low—just 6.4% of adults compared with 61.4% for leukaemia. The survival rates for brain tumour patients after one year are less than 40%; after five years, less than 20%; and after 10 years, just 14%. Time is short for patients and their families.
Tessa has rightly called for more funding for research into treating brain tumours, but she has importantly also called for a more flexible approach to participation in adaptive trials. Such trials allow patients who have a diagnosis that without a breakthrough treatment will certainly be terminal to add new drugs to their treatment plan, or to switch between new medications in a trial rather than having to wait sequentially for each trial to conclude. They are really important. It is also important that better ways are found to share the data from brain tumour patients in order that it can be used for research. This is what most brain tumour patients want, and it is what most members of the public would want, faced with an illness that cannot be cured. Our experience and our data should be used to try to improve the prognosis for others in future.
Tessa has also called for improvements in the way that treatment is provided to brain tumour patients and the wider environment of care. There is still too much variation across the country in diagnosis, referral-to-treatment times, access to specialists and clinical trials, and palliative care for those who need it. We have in this country exemplary services in all of these areas, but they are not available to every patient. That must change. Everyone with brain tumour symptoms should be diagnosed as early as possible; be referred to a specialist centre with access to the most up-to-date surgical techniques and drug therapies; and have access to the very best support services, including counselling as well as physio and occupational therapy. If and when the time sadly comes, everyone should have access to the gold standard of palliative care, which exists in some parts of the country but which is currently not available everywhere.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s engagement with Tessa’s campaign for better research, access to clinical trials, treatment and care, along with the work of the brain tumour Task And Finish Group, Brain Tumour Research and others, but we must make change happen. It is our commitment, Tessa, and my promise on behalf of all those who love you in Dulwich and West Norwood that, collectively, we will take on your campaign, and that your vision of people living better lives for longer with cancer, and with brain tumours in particular, will become a reality.
Order. It may have to be reduced, but we will start with a limit on Back-Bench speeches of six minutes each. I call George Freeman.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow Helen Hayes? She spoke with great passion and authority.
Thirty years ago this month, my father developed a cough and two months later he was dead from throat cancer. Being a man of that generation and age, he had never taken his health too seriously. He had never been for a check-up and had never received the care and treatment that would now follow, so what I say today is partly for dad. Eighteen months ago, I heard from a childhood friend of mine, Charlie Williams, that he had been diagnosed with the same form of brain tumour that Tessa has. Last week, Charlie posted on Facebook that he did not expect to see the next year out, so this is for Charlie.
I want to start by paying tribute to you, Tessa, for what you said in that remarkable speech. You spoke for us all, and to us all, and you spoke to the patients of this country not only with your condition, but with every other form of cancer—the patients I had a career working with who want us to make a difference for them. They want warm words, yes, and there were no words warmer than yours, Tessa, but they want us to turn the warm words into action. I believe that is the spirit in which we gather in this Chamber today, so this speech, Tessa, is for you.
Having come to this House after a career in medical research, it was my great privilege to be asked to lead, on behalf of the Government, a brain tumour research debate in Westminster Hall two years ago. I say this without a shred of criticism of my officials, who were simply doing their job, but the speech that I was given to read out said, as diligent speeches written by officials so often do, “There is no problem here. Move along. Everything is in good shape. Money is limited.” I read it with great respect, but I also listened to my colleagues with great respect, because unlike officials, we are sent to represent the people who put us here. As Tessa spoke for us all, I think it is our duty to speak always for the people who send us here.
I surprised my officials that day by announcing, as Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, that we would indeed create a taskforce to look into brain tumour research, never thinking that 18 months later my great friend the Secretary of State would announce £45 million of extra funding, in addition to the extra funding that he has recently announced on prostate cancer. That is a sign that, if we listen and speak on behalf of the people who put us here, we can make a difference, which is what Tessa wants us to do on her behalf and on behalf of all those people who send us here and the many patients around the country who are more impatient than anybody.
As you and patient colleagues know, Mr Speaker, I had a career in medical research. I want to highlight three important parts of this debate, the first of which is the new models of research that are coming—I was involved in my professional career in developing them. Secondly, I want to highlight the importance of patient voice in that model, and thirdly the importance of bold reforms to accelerate access to new treatments for our NHS patients.
My right hon. Friend James Brokenshire referred to precision medicine. The truth is that the life sciences sector that I joined 25 years ago is undergoing a profound transformation. The sector that I learned about was basically in the business of making blockbuster medicines that work for everybody. It would start with a theoretical drug target and, after 15 years, $2 billion on average and an 80% failure rate, drugs would be developed and eventually brought through regulation to the all-too-patient patients who were waiting for the approval.
In the new model, based on the genomic information that we have and phenotypic hospital records, we are able to look at a population and know which are likely to respond to the drug and which are not. We can start with the patients that we know are likely either to respond or to receive the disease, which means that we can start with the patient. With patient consent, we are able to start with their tissues, their genetics and their hospital records, and we are able not to end with a patient waiting patiently for the system to authorise a medicine, but with patients volunteering up-front to be part of that research.
It has been my privilege in my professional as well as my political career to work with inspired NHS clinicians around the country who have been leading this model. I pay tribute to the work of Cancer Research UK as an organisation, but also to Harpal Kumar, whose leadership of that organisation has been transformational.
We should be inspired by the fact that breast cancer is now 95% curable. We are within living, touching distance of cancer being a preventable disease or a treatable disease. More than 800,000 people are now living and working with cancer: it is not the death sentence that is used to be. We are in the midst of the most phenomenal revolution led by cancer. We should applaud those involved and learn the lessons of how they have managed to do it, largely through genomics and informatics.
I will share with the House a story that illustrates where the value in the new model lies. During my last project before I came to Parliament, I was working with an NHS clinician who, at the end of the meeting, pointed to a shelf in his office and asked me, “Do you think there is any value in that?” I said, “What is it?” He said, “It is all the data from a £25 million study of 250,000 women at risk of gynaecological cancer, funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.” I said, “What have you got?” He said, “All the blood samples, all the genetic samples, and their patient records.” “That should be the Ageing Biomarker company,” I said. “We should form a company around that asset, because it will help us to identify ageing biomarkers.”
May I place on record at this point the work that my hon. Friend has done to get us to this point? He is very modest in not saying too much about it himself—although he mentioned the Westminster Hall debate and the way in which he went out on a limb in response to it—but his understanding of the business and this fight has taken us a long way towards where we are today. I hope he can now conclude his speech as he needs to.
That is very kind. I take the hint from my hon. Friend.
The assets that we have in our health system are phenomenal assets to drive this research model, and I think it is our challenge to release them, but in order to do so, we need patient consent. However interventionist we are as Ministers, we as a system will not and cannot release data on tissues and genetics without patient voice. This research model requires us to empower patients and the charities that speak to and for them. I would like us to think about setting up disease portals in which patients can slide the consent bar on their phones, share their records, and help the charities to drive research.
Finally, we need to accelerate the uptake of innovative medicines in the system, which is what the accelerated access reform that I put together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was all about. I dream of—I think we are within touching distance—a model in this country enabling the NHS to use its genomics and data to drive research. If we reform NICE to drive accelerated access, we give Tessa and the people for whom she spoke the legacy that they really want. We will make this country the leader not just of research, but of accelerated uptake of new treatments.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour Sarah Jones on securing this important debate, and on making what I thought was a remarkable speech. I remember her telling me, days after her election, about the loss of her father. It was such a keenly felt loss, but I know how proud he must have felt to see his daughter enter this place—I think he hung on to see that happen. Had he heard her speech—and perhaps he did—I think that it would justify every ounce of his pride in her.
I will start by paying tribute to Tessa Jowell, if I may. She was one of the Members of Parliament representing the London borough of Lambeth when I was first leader of the opposition and then leader of the council. She was a fantastic, supportive local MP. Despite her serious, significant roles in Government, she was always available to talk to me about my role and the community that we both cherished and loved and for which we wanted to do our best. She became my mentor, and she became my friend.
Tessa was always thinking about how we could do more to help people, particularly the most vulnerable. We worked together to open schools and Sure Start centres. I particularly remember that in the mid-noughties, when there was that terrible spike in violent youth crime and knife crime—similar to what we are seeing now—in Tessa’s beloved Brixton, where she had started her career as a social worker, she took me to see a community-led project called Exit on the Moorlands estate, one of the most deprived inner-city estates in the country, where there was a horrifically high level of youth engagement in violence. Young people knew by name others who had been killed, including friends.
Tessa took me to see that project, which had been set up by the community. It was supported by youth workers and the police, but with the community in charge, and it was making a dramatic difference to the life chances of those young people by getting them out of danger—getting them out of gangs and steering them back on to a safer path that was giving them back the future that should have been theirs as a birthright. Tessa took me to see that project not just because she wanted the council’s support for it, but because she was teaching me an important lesson: it was not my job as a politician to find the answers for people; it was my job as a politician to help people find the answers for themselves, because they would be better answers. I have brought that lesson with me into Parliament; like many of us, I would not be here if it was not for Tessa, and Tessa taught me that people-based politics.
That same compassion, empathy and drive to support and help people is what has led Tessa to turn this great personal challenge in her own life today into a way to bring about change to help others. For that reason, as well as many others, I am very proud to stand here today and support Tessa’s campaign.
As we have been hearing, brain tumour research is underfunded and undervalued compared with other types of cancer research, despite the fact that it kills more people under the age of 40 than any other type of cancer and is the biggest killer of children of any kind of cancer. So we need to match the progress made in survival rates for other forms of cancer, such as leukaemia and breast cancer, by focusing much more on brain tumour cancer and what we can do as a country and a society to help people who find themselves living with that form of cancer.
May I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the courage and bravery of our friend, Baroness Tessa Jowell, and particularly her significant decision to make her medical data available? Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the low level of participation in clinical trials, if we are to achieve much better results for patients, the Government and all of us must do much more to encourage participation in these trials in all of our local areas and in our national politics?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that well-timed intervention. We absolutely need to boost participation in clinical trials. Only 6.4% of adults with this particular form of cancer take part in those trials, whereas over 61% of people with leukaemia participate, so there is a clear need for a major increase in the numbers participating in these trials if we are to get the data we need to learn. I join my right hon. Friend, too, in congratulating Baroness Jowell on her historic decision to become the first patient to consent to share her data fully and openly, in order to speed up the discovery of new cures and ways to help other people; she is an example to so many people in so many ways, but here again we need to learn from Tessa’s example, because that is how we will help to find a cure for this terrible form of cancer.
I say to Ministers, who will be responsible for regulation as well as funding, that it is important that regulation is not drawn so tightly that it does not allow for innovation and for new treatments to be developed. We must be open to doing things in different ways and to learning from failure as well as success; we cannot regulate against failure, but we can always learn from it so that we can improve.
We must increase the funding going into the kind of research that will find a cure for this form of cancer and put it on a par with other, perhaps more high-profile, forms of cancer that have attracted levels of funding that are making a bigger difference. In that respect, I put my name on record in welcoming and congratulating the Government on the increase in funding of £45 million —I believe that is the figure—announced since the very moving debate, which many of us attended in the House of Lords, led by Tessa Jowell.
Tessa has been a fighter all her life and now she is in the fight of her life, but how typical it is that she has turned it into a fight to allow others to live well, live better and live longer. Every one of us in this Chamber, and many others beyond, are proud to stand with Tessa today. I would like to say this to her, if I may: Tessa, you have all our love and all our respect. Please keep going and keep being the inspiration to all of us that you have always been.
In the short time that I have to speak in this debate, I should like to focus on two areas. I want to talk about the important progress that needs to be made in the drive to fight prostate cancer and also, briefly, about the need for more attention to be given to the link between alcohol consumption and several cancers. First, let me say that I appreciate the fact that the Government are committed to improving the cancer services offered by the NHS, and to making the UK a world leader in cancer research, diagnosis, treatment and care. Many innovations have been introduced, including the cancer drugs fund and the implementation of the independent cancer taskforce’s strategy. Cancer survival rates are now at a record high, and our access to the world’s leading cancer drugs continues to improve. However, there is always more to do, and that is certainly the case with regard to prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. It affects one in 10 men, so barely a family in the land will be unaffected. Indeed, my own grandfather died of it. More than 40,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, and just over 10,000 men die of it each year. It is relatively rare in men under 50, but it gets more common as men get older, and the average age of diagnosis is between 70 and 74, which is often too late. It has been recognised that earlier diagnosis is the key. The Prime Minister and Health Ministers have considered what more can be done on prostate cancer, and they are looking at a range of options for further activity and taking expert advice. It is clear that the strongest chance of health gain lies in more research—particularly research that focuses on early diagnosis—together with innovative new treatments and care for men with prostate cancer.
I am pleased that, just a few days ago, the Prime Minister announced a very welcome £75 million plan to launch new research into prostate cancer. This will build on the already strong portfolio of prostate cancer research being done, and on the considerable investment that is already being put in. I know that the Department of Health and Social Care works closely with Cancer Research UK, Prostate Cancer UK, the Medical Research Council and others via the National Cancer Research Institute, which is a strategic partnership of the major UK funders of cancer research, and that the spending by that partnership on prostate cancer increased from £17 million in 2011-12 to £26 million in 2015-16.
As I say, more needs to be done, and the Government have indeed announced that substantially more will be done to help the thousands of men affected by this disease every year get treated earlier and faster. More than 40,000 patients will be recruited into prostate cancer studies over the next five years. Those studies will include trial testing, keyhole surgery, different types of radiotherapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound and cryotherapy. Other studies are seeking to identify predisposing hereditary genes, which could help to identify men at high risk, and this will include focusing on men with a family history of prostate cancer and also on black men, one in four of whom will develop the disease. Work will continue on supportive interventions, including exercise and dietary advice, and on the one-stop cancer shops being piloted in 10 areas to catch cancer early and speed up diagnosis, particularly for those suffering with less obvious symptoms. I appreciate the Secretary of State’s announcement that these plans will refocus the Government’s efforts to develop new treatments in this field.
I now want to touch on the link between alcohol and cancer. Over recent years the Government have exhibited admirable leadership by introducing a range of tobacco control legislation, helping people to reduce smoking, and they are now doing similar work to tackle obesity. Those are both high cancer triggers, and I applaud the Government for that work. Perhaps less recognised is the fact that alcohol can also be a cause of cancer.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol harm, I believe that this issue needs more attention from the Government, in the same way as they have looked at smoking and obesity. Indeed, consuming too much alcohol can increase the risk of at least seven types of cancer: bowel; breast; laryngeal, or cancer of the voicebox; liver; mouth; oesophageal, or cancer of the foodpipe; and pharyngeal, or cancer of the upper throat. Without being conscious about how much we drink, there is a risk that many people are drinking in a way that causes those cancers and that is preventable.
I ask the Government to do more to encourage people to drink responsibly to reduce cancer risks, as well as many other health risks. One way would be for the Government to help people better understand what 14 units a week, the amount in the chief medical officer’s guidelines, really means. I also ask the Government to meet me and the all-party group to discuss improving the labelling of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. That would do much to help change habits, promote responsible drinking and prevent cancer and other health risks that can come from drinking even slightly above the chief medical officer’s guidelines.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for being present in the Chamber today. I know that you take the Chair most Thursdays, but I choose to interpret your presence today as a testament to Tessa. He is not in his place at the moment, but it is worth recognising that the Secretary of State was present not just during today’s debate but in the debate in the Lords. That was recognised by many of us and very much appreciated.
I want to start by talking about my mum, Joanna Kyle, later Murrell. In 2011, my mum presented to doctors with severe back pain, for which she was given medication but no further tests. In the 18 months that followed that visit, she went to doctors and clinicians and to hospital no more than a dozen times with the back pain, which never went away and only got worse. She was sent for numerous tests on her back, but on her final visit to the GP, when her husband said, “Please run more tests because the pain is not going away,” the GP simply replied, “Why on earth would I do that?” A week later, my mum collapsed. She was taken to hospital and diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Within a month, she had died. Her mother had lung cancer, my mum had been a smoker earlier in her life—one would have thought that those were the sort of things that would have been picked up much earlier.
At the point at which my mum was diagnosed, she had only a 21% chance of living a year. If she had been diagnosed at the point at which she first presented to the doctors, in all statistical likelihood she would have seen me, her son, enter the House of Commons. There would have been a very good chance that she would have been here today or, most likely, outside enjoying the weather at her house in Devon.
My mum was not a complainer. She did not push herself forward, and she did not complain, thrust or make sure she got all the attention she needed. This is a good link from my mum to Tessa. Many people who do not know the relationship I have with Tessa might not see the link between my mother and Tessa, but for me it seems very logical. Tessa has always played a very strong and maternal role in my life, always—always—pushing me forward. For me, the link is an easy one. Tessa, too, is not a complainer, but my God she is a doer. She has always got things done and it is easy to pay tribute to her not just for her stellar career and achieving the Olympics but for her wonderful family. These debates in Parliament are the best testament to her, because amid the anguish of living with cancer, Tessa’s first instinct is to make life better for others.
Of course I do. My hon. Friend makes an important point. Tessa, too, has been linking with many organisations, bringing them together and focusing attention on them but, just because that is so typically Tessa, it does not make it any less remarkable.
For brain cancer to be tackled, three things must happen. We need to sort out funding, innovation and the use of data, and I will speak about the data. The working group set up by the Department of Health and Social Care said that brain tumour patients would like
“their health data to be used for research to speed up development of new treatments. Regulators should respect these wishes.”
Lord Freyberg said in the debate in the other place that Britain has a “globally unique research asset” in the NHS. We have cradle-to-grave records covering millions of people, and examples from those records could revolutionise care and research. Those records need to be much better utilised.
That is the data at the very top, but we now see in America how Apple is revolutionising the use of health data down to the individual. Last month a dozen healthcare providers in the US partnered with Apple to provide health records directly on to patients’ phones via an app. The information is presented in a way that incentivises healthy choices and empowers patients not only to make the right choices but to have a more natural relationship with their health and health information, and with the professionals who provide it. With our NHS, we have infinitely more potential than any other country on earth to revolutionise health research and the way we manage and maintain our own health. We need far more ambition to realise that.
I end with another quick word about Tessa, because I would not be here if not for strong women like Tessa pushing me forward way before I came to this place and way before I got into politics. In all those situations I knew Tessa and felt her guiding hand gently pushing me forward. She gave me the kind of mentorship that people need. I have articulated to her many times that it has always been a source of regret that we were never able to sit on these Benches together, because I believe hers is the sort of mentorship from which somebody like me would really benefit as they enter this place.
Tessa, to be here today in the same Chamber as you, and to be sharing these green Benches with you for these few moments, is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the quality of speech we have just heard from Peter Kyle. He may not know it, but we are similar in both having lost our mothers to cancer.
My mother, Linda, was diagnosed with bowel cancer back in March 2011. By that point the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. She had a couple more good years with us, but she had reached the point where, despite all the treatments, the cancer’s progress could not be stopped. She was very stoic in the face of it.
I was a councillor at the time, and my mother knew I had to take time away from my duties. I remember her saying from her hospital bed, “You do know you can tell people about it?” That was quite a decision for her, because she was usually quite a private person—she was always the person in our family who was not ill or unwell. She did not usually want to talk about her issues, but she was clear that I should talk and tell people about it: if people saw my position, I would get publicity and people would want to know why I was away. The idea that I was spending my weekend with my mum and my family is very different from the idea that I was helping my dad care for my mum when she had just come back from hospital.
All the way through, my mum was keen that her experience should be talked about, and she would be pleased that, even today, it is still being mentioned, because she wanted people who have a suspicion to go and get a test and to find out about it. It is better to find out than to worry and not do it.
My mum was 56 when her cancer was picked up in March 2011, and the irony is that my father had been 60 the year before and they had received the bowel cancer test kit for him in the September or October. He dutifully did what he needed to do with it in the bathroom and sent it back. Of course, it came back clear. Had my mother used the kit, it may well have been a very different scenario. The key thing that came out of it for me is that her tumour was located up, over and right the way back down in her bowel, so the more visible signs did not show. There would have been no blood in the toilet because the blood would have dissipated through her system. But a test would have picked it up, which is why it is so important to me that that message is heard, because people do sometimes think this might be embarrassing and find that when they read the instructions of what to do with the test it sounds a bit odd. There is nothing to worry about. People should not just use it because they are feeling ill; they should use it because it is there and it can tell them that there is something wrong.
The Minister spoke briefly to us before we came into the Chamber and I hope, given my family’s experience, that real consideration is being given to how the faecal immunochemical test can be expanded and, thus, help save more lives, particularly among the under-60s. The fact that this was started at 60—it was a good initiative, which has helped saved lives—almost sent a message of, “Well, when you’re 60 you might get this”, whereas plenty of people younger than that get it. Sadly, my mother passed away from bowel cancer at 59, before the age at which she would have got the test in the post in order to try to identify whether she had the illness.
My mother’s case highlighted one other thing, which we have seen in other cases: once a doctor has concerns, it is important that we can get the tests done quickly to identify exactly what is wrong. With my mother, it was unexplained anaemia and stomach pain that finally triggered the test to be done, but it can be all sorts of complaints. Peter Kyle gave the example of something being wrong but we cannot quite pin down what. I know the ACE—accelerate, co-ordinate, evaluate—centres are being created, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments about how he thinks they can be expanded and developed. Where a GP has a concern with a patient—where something seems to be not quite right but they cannot put their finger on exactly what aspect of cancer it might be or whether it is cancer—we need the ability to get the tests done and a diagnosis made quickly, which then means treatment can start.
It is absolutely right to say that cancer is not the death sentence it once was and it is not taboo to talk about it, as it once was. The only thing my mum hated was when anyone called it “The big C”. She said, “Oh, for goodness’ sake, if you are calling it ‘The big C’ you might as well say what it is. What a load of nonsense!” That was her reaction; she wanted us to call it cancer, because that is what it is. She used to say, “Look, I’ve got bowel cancer. It is not bowel with the big C. It is bowel cancer.” That was very much her view. For some people, that description helps but for her it gave the idea of not being up front about what it is and this was about being able to get treatment. So I hope something good can come out of her experience.
Thankfully, more people are surviving cancer than used to be the case, but this sort of debate is so important. I say that, first, because it brings this up and it is about sharing personal experience. No one is immune from cancer. I know my family history and I know that in my mid-50s there are some tests I need to have. My mum was worried that I might have her genetic condition and so be more liable to get this, but I just said to her, “Well, if it is, the one thing we can guarantee is that I am going to be one of the monitored people in western Europe for that particular condition. Don’t be embarrassed about it, mum.” This was certainly an informative experience for me, and I do hope we can do more. I hope that the result of this debate is that more people can be helped and we can get the death rates down even further.
It is a genuine privilege to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Jones and James Brokenshire on securing it. It is entirely appropriate that this debate has been led by two south London MPs. As a fellow south Londoner, may I start by saying what a special place in our heart is occupied by the very noble Baroness Jowell? There are some people we meet in life who radiate positivity, and Tessa is one of them. She has a lightness of step but a firmness of view that is a formidable combination; there was no way those Olympics in 2012 were going anywhere but London! It is right and proper that this House has the chance to debate her latest and perhaps most important campaign: the need to increase research on, and improve outcomes for, individuals diagnosed with brain cancer. The figures on research funding, and the availability of effective drugs and treatment, speak for themselves, and I will not repeat them, as I know time is short.
Last year, I lost two people close to me to cancer. One was my father-in-law, Nigel Ballantyne. I hesitate to say what I am about to say, as I have questioned whether my own grief has skewed my perceptions of the care that he received. I do not think it has. I also hesitate because I wonder whether today is the appropriate time to raise these issues, but I have concluded that Tessa would not want me to pull any punches.
My father-in-law was told that he had lung cancer when he was on his own, in a hospital bed, with only his mobile phone for company. There were complicating circumstances, but there were no excuses. He had struggled to get an appointment to see his own GP and had been passed from pillar to post for months—a situation admittedly not made better by the usual reticence of a 76-year-old man not wanting to cause a fuss, and his understandable desire to go on that holiday that he had been looking forward to. Having said that, the delay in his diagnosis and the way his diagnosis was delivered were unacceptable. He died six days before the general election last year.
Five months later, a good friend died at home after a long struggle. His wife speaks of how she had to fight tooth and nail to get palliative care support in place on the night he died. She described to me a ward that lacked sufficient nursing staff to administer injections without her physical help.
When the national cancer strategy talks about placing patient experience on a par with clinical outcomes and quality of life, it rings a bit hollow to me. I do not want to sound overly bleak, as I know that there are many wonderful examples of good care with positive outcomes, but we do need to be honest. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about how patients are treated on all steps of the care pathway.
Those living with cancer also need more support. Last Friday, my constituent, Amanda Mahoney, whose breast cancer has recurred four times in seven years, came to my advice surgery to ask me to campaign alongside her to change the face of cancer. She said:
“We’re not all bald, we’re not all having chemo. I don’t want to be told ‘sit on a park bench and wait till it gets you.’”
She wants to continue doing the job she loves—she is an outreach worker with autistic children—but her recurring experience has been employer after employer who does not know what to do and a benefits system that seems to make things harder, not easier.
This issue is not going away. This debate is the product of Tessa’s campaigning. She has been able to do what she does best—make her contribution by making those in power sit up and listen. She has been able to continue her working life. Others should be able to do the same, if that is what they want, and employers should be supported to make that happen.
There is so much more that needs to be said, but in the time available it is impossible to do this subject justice, so I will touch on just one other issue, which I know is also close to Tessa’s heart: our impending departure from the EU, which includes our probable departure from the European Medicines Agency and Euratom. Promises were made about extra cash for the NHS after Brexit, but, in stark contrast, Brexit has potentially huge negative implications for cancer research and treatment. We need urgent answers.
The continued ability of British cancer sufferers to participate in pan-European clinical trials is critical, especially for those with rarer cancers. We must ensure that we have a reliable supply of medical isotopes for diagnostics and treatments—that supply is at risk as we leave Euratom. We must not become a second-tier country for access to the newest and the best medicines. The next generation of immunotherapies holds great potential. We cannot willingly put ourselves at the back of the queue.
There are not yet answers to those questions, nor are there answers to the chronic NHS staffing crisis, which is exacerbated by Brexit, yet we are 11 months from leaving. We need a global, cross-border approach to research. We need to be a country that is open to talent and ideas from around the world. We need a properly resourced, adequately staffed NHS that is capable of embracing innovation.
I am drawing my remarks to a close.
It saddens me that we seem a long way from that aspiration, but if we are to honour the work of people such as Tessa and the memory of people such as my father-in-law, it has to be worth fighting for.
It is a real pleasure to follow Heidi Alexander. I join other colleagues in congratulating Sarah Jones and say that it has been a real privilege to take part in this debate. She has achieved something that we often talk about, but today’s debate has highlighted it, and that is that we really do have more in common. Absolutely everybody in this Chamber will have experienced cancer or its effects at some time in their life. We are all touched by it; it has its own dark logic that spares nobody.
In my research on the debate, I was struck by the fact that cancer has been around since 4600 BC. That was highlighted in the excellent book “The Emperor of All Maladies”, written by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee. He wrote the book to help his patients understand what they were fighting. This disease lived in silence until 440 BC when Herodotus recorded a slave removing a tumour from the breast of her mistress. We do not know whether she was successful, but, clearly, things have moved on considerably since then. However, what has not changed is the devastation, pain and suffering caused by cancer.
I find myself in the presence of someone who has been talked about so much—Dame Tessa Jowell. It is a real honour that she was the one to spark this debate, and I and my colleagues pay tribute to her for the fantastic work that she has done. I hope that we will see some real progress.
Brain tumours have touched my life as well. My son’s classmate, Joseph Foote, lost his life in August 2007. His father went on to found a brain tumour charity, which raised £2 million. He was a real inspiration in our local community. Every single year, as my son gets older and has his birthday, we are aware of the hole in his classroom. When I got involved with the efforts to raise money, I was surprised, like the hon. Member for Croydon Central was, to learn that, of all the cancers, brain cancer was the most common killer of children—I did not know that. The charity has now been merged with the Brain Tumour Charity, and it continues to work really hard.
Of course, there are many other charities. I am delighted that I have been able to support Breast Cancer Now as an ambassador. I will not speak at length about the charity, but it welcomed the launch of the cancer drugs fund in 2016. I thank the charity for the excellent brief that it provided today, and ask whether the Minister will set out the terms of reference for that cancer drugs fund review. We understand that it is under way, and the charity has asked how patient organisations will be involved.
Let me turn to my local hospital, the Alex, part of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which I have mentioned many times in this Chamber. I continue to work closely with the trust. With regard to cancer, I am concerned that our statistics are falling short of a number of key national targets. The trust is still in special measures. It has, unfortunately, let down many of my constituents in the past with long waiting times. That is not good enough, but new leadership is in place. It is beginning to make a real difference in turning around the situation, and that is down to the efforts of the incredibly hard-working frontline staff, and I pay tribute to them.
I have visited the cancer ward at the Alex and seen the chemotherapy that is going on there. I have seen at first hand the care and compassion that the staff display, and I know that it makes a real difference to the people of Redditch at that time in their life.
On cancer statistics, the trust is failing to meet some national targets. There are signs of improvement, which I welcome, but I have a question to put to the Minister and also to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who told me when I was first elected that our trust was one of the trusts he was most concerned about. I call on him to make sure that he continues to keep it at the top of his list, and continues to keep it in his focus, because we want it turned around not just for cancer treatment, but for all the treatments that take place there.
There are some good-news stories for the trust. We have seen some new investment in the form of a new testing service, which has been introduced just recently. Breast cancer patients are benefiting from drastically reduced waiting times, thanks to a test now carried out in the labs at Worcestershire Royal. This has cut the time doctors have to wait before deciding what treatment to give patients from three weeks down to two days.
Tests used to be sent to Birmingham, which meant long waits and added cost, and doing them in-house has massively reduced the time taken to produce the results. That means that doctors can decide the best course of treatment as quickly as possible. In particular, this improves the prognosis for patients with certain types of breast cancer. I hope people begin to see that things are slowly improving, but we must never let the trust slide back again, because my constituents deserve world-class services in cancer and in all other health services.
We all know how important it is that cancer treatment starts early, which is why I welcome today’s contributions. Facing a cancer diagnosis and not knowing how long one has to live must be the worst experience that can happen to a human being. As those brave souls fighting cancer know better than us, it is not about counting the days; it is about making every day count—it seems that Baroness Tessa Jowell is definitely doing that. I am pleased the Government are unwavering in their commitment to the resilience of the human spirit and have made cancer their compassionate priority.
Seb Coe described her as “Mary Poppins in stilettos”. The Guardian called her “the ultimate loyalist” and many times rehashed the image of tiny Tessa Jowell throwing herself dramatically under a bus—presumably a London bus. Alan Johnson said she had
“all the warmth in the world but a core of absolute steel”.
The Evening Standard said:
“If you cut her veins, you would probably find the River Thames running through them.”
For me, Tessa Jowell, whom I worked for once, will always epitomise the best of my city, London. She has long been a professional and personal hero of mine. At one point, we were both Camden councillors, although she has achieved a lot more in her life than I ever will. As all Members have already mentioned in this powerful debate, it was Tessa who was fundamental to bringing the Olympics to London; it was Tessa who constantly talked about how we had to go all out to win and about how big prizes were never won by playing it safe; it was Tessa who said the Olympics would teach us Londoners to be resilient and to celebrate our diversity; and it was Tessa who told us the Olympics would show us the extent of our ambition. How right she was.
In the same spirit that Tessa has talked about her medical condition—the cancer that resulted in her having two seizures in a cab, about which she has spoken so powerfully—and with the same resilience, she has said she will use her experience to make life better for others and improve and lengthen the life of cancer victims. She has shown the same ambition in talking about using innovative cancer treatments that do not currently exist in the UK.
Tessa has inspired me to suggest that we in the House work together to launch an initiative similar to Dementia Friends. For those who do not know, Dementia Friends is an Alzheimer’s Society initiative that offers extensive information sessions so that people can learn about dementia and what they can do to help. The sessions play a crucial role beyond recognising just the signs of dementia, not least because the way dementia affects people varies hugely. I know we already have brilliant organisations such Cancer Research UK and care organisations such as Macmillan, but the role of a cancer friends initiative would be different. It would be more about understanding the medical condition, building resilience through networks and creating cancer friendly communities. Formalising such body could support many thousands.
Having worked with Tessa, I know she has a strong support network, like no one else, of friends and family, but not everyone has that, as she will be aware from our conversations about loneliness—an important subject put on the map by my late friend, Jo Cox. Tessa would be the first to agree that because not everyone has these networks at their fingertips, it is necessary to consider launching a cancer friends initiative. Such an initiative could also bring profound benefits for those searching for stem cell donors.
I want to mention a constituent of mine, Lara, who has been very brave in the face of adversity. She had a similar condition, but was unable to find a stem cell donor because of her black, Asian and minority ethnic background. If people look into the figures, they will realise that only 60% of patients receive the best match, but if they are from a BAME background, that drops to 20%.
I raised the case of my amazing constituent Lara at Prime Minister’s questions, and I talked about the spit drive we had at the O2 Centre in my constituency. Lara actually managed to find a match and is undergoing treatment because of the network that came around her and the community in my constituency that helped her. A cancer friends initiative could certainly help to spread the word.
I want to talk about Hampstead and Kilburn—I think Tessa would approve of me bringing in my constituency, because she happened to mention her constituency every five minutes when we worked together. My constituency is blessed with some of the finest oncologists in the world. The Royal Free Hospital, which everyone will know about, is a European centre of excellence and is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its neuroendocrine tumour unit. It has grown from having 30 patients to having more than 1,800, and it will soon be joined by the Pears Institute, which will be one of the five leading centres of its kind across the globe, bringing clinicians together to research revolutionary new cancer treatments. Hospitals such as the Royal Free have benefited enormously from Tessa’s work in Camden, where she started out, but, as we know, her work has touched the whole country.
In 2015, Tessa gave a memorial lecture to mark 10 years since the 7/7 attacks. She said:
“This city, this country, this people are a model of resilience…
Resilience is rooted in optimism. Behind the strength to stand firm lies the feeling that tomorrow will be better than today…
Resilience relies on a commitment to our way of life but also the feeling that life can improve. Progress is not an illusion even in the darkest of hours.”
Tessa was talking about British people, but her words are a perfect testament to the character she has shown in fighting, even after she left these green Benches and was elevated to the red Benches. A model of resilience, a model of optimism, a model of a politician—our Tessa Jowell.
I rise today to talk about some very special people with an Ilford North connection. Perhaps even more impressive than crossing the party political divide in this debate, Tessa Jowell crosses an even greater political divide in London— the River Thames. I say respectfully to my hon. Friend Helen Hayes and her constituents that we actually had Tessa first, because, in 1978, a fresh-faced Tessa Jowell embarked on a by-election campaign there. She was defeated, obviously, by the great tides of national politics of the day but, undeterred, she persisted in 1979.
What was so remarkable when I shared the video of Tessa Jowell speaking in the House of Lords in that powerful debate on cancer was just how many of my constituents responded, not just with great love and affection, but with strong memories of meeting Tessa during that by-election 40 years ago. That speaks so strongly of the warmth, empathy and infectious personality that Tessa has brought to her politics. As so many people have said, that certainly made its mark in so many ways on public policy in this country, but anyone who has ever met Tessa has been personally affected by her, and that is why we are all here today, determined to carry forward her legacy in such an important area.
I also want to talk about my constituent Kaleigh Lau. Today is a very special day for Kaleigh and her family—her father Scott, her mum Yang and her brother Carson. Two years ago today, Kaleigh was diagnosed with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which is a brain tumour located in the pons of the brainstem, for which there is currently no cure. At the time, Kaleigh and her family were told that life expectancy with DIPG was just nine months and that they should focus on making memories. Well, last month, Kaleigh celebrated her eighth birthday, and two years on from that awful day Kaleigh, her family and her huge band of friends and supporters are determined to make history, not memories, as they battle to defeat DIPG.
Their journey during the past two years has not been easy. I have followed the family through their tremendous ups and downs: the 30 radiotherapy sessions that young Kaleigh experienced between April and June 2016; that awful moment in December that year when Kaleigh was in progression, eight months in; the closeness with which Kaleigh almost got on to the convection enhanced delivery treatment programme through the compassionate treatment route, only to be told at the eleventh hour that the tumour had spread and CED would no longer be possible; the 10 more radiotherapy sessions that she underwent in January and February 2017; and the moment when Kaleigh’s condition declined to such an extent that the family took her on what they thought would be her last holiday, in March 2017.
Today is also an important day for the family because things changed a year ago today when Kaleigh began experimental treatment in Mexico. By her second treatment, she had regained all her functions. Five other UK families followed her to Mexico. Kaleigh was the first European to receive this treatment. More than 50 people around the world have now undergone the same treatment. None of this has been easy and we do not yet know whether this experimental treatment will be successful, but we know one thing for sure: if Kaleigh had stayed in the UK, she would not be with us today.
Kaleigh’s family have spent over £250,000 to fund her treatment so far, and her ongoing treatment costs them £15,000 every four to six weeks. I pay tribute to Kaleigh’s remarkably resilient family, particularly her father Scott, with whom I speak regularly. Scott has a full-time job and is a full-time dad. He is an utterly selfless human being, to such an extent that every time I call him back, without fail his first words are always, “Thanks for calling. I know you must be busy.” I am nowhere near as busy as Scott is, as a father trying to look after and care for his family on top of everything else that they are dealing with. This is why I address my remarks to Ministers.
I thank successive Ministers—most recently Lord O’Shaughnessy—for engaging with Kaleigh’s case, but they will understand the family’s frustration. After three meetings with the Department of Health, two online petition campaigns and a huge fundraising effort to pay for Kaleigh’s treatment, they do not feel that things are really moving forwards. As Scott says:
“How is the UK government going to help Kaleigh now? Not in the future, but now? Without funding we have no treatment. Overnight we have been forced to become an expert on DIPG, a carer, a fundraiser, a counsellor, an adviser, a leader, a beggar. But ultimately we need help from our government to take the burden off us so that we can focus on Kaleigh.”
There are just a few things that I want to say to Ministers in the short time I have left. We need to become a global leader in tackling DIPG, which has already taken over 200,000 children. We can do this through research, spearheading clinical trials and ensuring earlier access to treatment. We need to do more to ensure financial support to access experimental treatment. I understand the ethical dilemmas, particularly where experimental treatment is concerned, but we have to place greater trust in patients and parents who are willing to take risks.
I am sure that everyone in the House is paying rapt attention to my hon. Friend’s explanation of Kaleigh’s care and determination, and that of her family. Will he conclude the story and tell us what is going on at the moment?
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for that additional time.
If Ministers cannot fund treatment, let us at least look at funding the flights, accommodation and all the additional costs that families face. It was remarkable listening to the comparison between what Tessa has been through and what Kaleigh’s family have been through in this respect. We need better care plans, advice and guidance. Scott has to do it all himself, to such an extent that he has become an adviser to families around the world on top of looking after his own children. We need to do a lot more to ensure consistency.
My hon. Friend is coming up with some practical suggestions and creative ways of supporting such families. Does he agree that it is important that the NHS thinks sensitively and creatively about how it can support aftercare once Kaleigh and her family come home?
That is absolutely right. I pay tribute to Great Ormond Street Hospital and other great NHS services that have supported the family.
As my hon. Friend Sarah Jones said when she opened the debate, we have all been affected by cancer in some way. The worst experience of my life was losing my nan to cancer when I was aged 10. It is a great source of regret to me that I do not still have that great left-wing firebrand who occupied County Hall when Mrs Thatcher decided to shut it down, and allegedly threw a brick at the trucks as they rolled into Wapping. Some of that has rubbed off on me.
I hope that, in looking at what we can practically do to support families, Ministers have heard the powerful contributions made today. I want to say to Kaleigh’s family, to Tessa, and to other families who have been affected by childhood brain tumours that their strength, their courage and their resilience, but most remarkably of all, their enormous generosity of spirit in seeking to help others while they go through an enormous struggle themselves should be an example to us all. Tessa, that is the example that we are following today, and we are determined to make sure that our country gets this right for you.
I cannot compete with some of the wonderful speeches that have been made today. My research would be perfunctory by comparison with some of the things that Members of the House have told us. I will leave this debate knowing so much more about brain cancer than I did when I arrived.
My purpose in speaking is simply to say to Tessa: we are with you. You know, Mr Speaker, that politics is a rough old trade, and sometimes you fall out with people—people you think the most of. I just wanted to be here to say to Tessa that whatever the arguments or disagreements, it counts for nothing by comparison with my admiration and my determination to do anything I can to support her in her campaign.
Let me grab this opportunity to say something, because I am sure that Tessa can see that she has got these three women here—me, my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, and my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh. We entered this House in 1997 and joined Tessa Jowell on the Government Benches, and we served with her through three terms of the Labour Government. She gave us such fantastic support. I just wanted to leave a rounded picture of Tessa in this very serious debate. I bet she is really a little bit embarrassed at all the praise, but she deserves it. She is such a strong supporter of women coming into this place and getting them through the process to get here. She also has a very ready but very kind wit that we witnessed much of when she was at the Dispatch Box.
I thank my right hon. Friend—my very best right hon. Friend in this House—and Members can see so many reasons why that is.
Sometimes we fall out, and perhaps we fall out harder on our own side than we do with parties on the other side. Tessa is extraordinary in her example, as are so many people, particularly in the NHS. At 7 o’clock tonight, I will be holding a reception in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons for the winter heroes from Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust to say thanks to them. If anybody wishes to join us, there will be a glass of wine and a packet of crisps for them. Thanks to the NHS, thank you to Tessa, and thanks to everybody for their brilliant speeches today.
It is always a pleasure to speak in any debate, but especially one on cancer. First, as others have done, I congratulate Baroness Tessa Jowell. I see her not in stilettos but as a real soldier and a real warrior. I thank her for her courage and determination. I thank Sarah Jones for setting the scene. To pick out one speaker in particular, with no disrespect to anyone else, I thank James Brokenshire for his contribution. What a joy it is to see him back in the Chamber again making a valuable contribution, as he always does.
This is always a tough kind of debate to speak in, for a number of reasons. We rightly all use the statistics and numbers that are so informative, but tend to gloss over the pain felt by the families and loved ones. We rightly talk about how far we have come in terms of greater life expectancy, and yet those families who watch this debate with an empty chair beside them cannot share the victory. We are rightly bombarded with requests from charities and families asking us to highlight their particular issue that needs to be addressed. We want to do that, yet we do not have the time to discuss all that needs to be discussed. We rightly discuss value for money in funding research, yet which one of us is comfortable in putting a price on the cost of the quality of life for someone, and which one of us is happy to dictate a cut-off age when someone is too old to be treated or given innovative new drugs? We all seek to do what is right and to do our best, but it can never be enough when it comes to a debate like this. My father is a three-time cancer survivor. He did not die because of cancer—he died three years ago of natural causes. His survival from cancer was down to the good work of the NHS, the skill of the surgeon and the care of the nurses—and it took all of our prayers.
I highlighted in my own press release background information from Brain Tumour Research, which was probably in the paper today. I recently had a photo with a lovely lady called Phyllis Scott, with whom I have had a great friendship over the years, in aid of raising awareness of brain tumours—I know that that is close to the Minister’s heart. I wore my country sports hat for the purposes of the photograph, and today I am wearing my MP hat to look at the issue of brain tumours.
Brain tumours reduce life expectancy by, on average, 20 years—the highest of any cancer. The statistics are well known. In Northern Ireland, 344 people were diagnosed in the last year. Some 60% of people diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour will have a very short life in this world. The figures are shocking, but when we meet someone like Phyllis Scott, the human face is very clear. Some 62% of children who survive a brain tumour will be left with a life-altering, long-term disability. Brain tumours are the biggest cause of preventable or treatable blindness in children, as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup pointed out. Some 91% of adults said that their brain tumour affected their emotional and mental health. Those are the key figures—many of those diagnosed with brain tumours have tremendous issues.
I love the hard-hitting new Cancer Research advert that shows an older couple in bed together as a stark reminder that the issue is not simply surviving, but living with a husband or wife and children. Rachel Maclean spoke about being a breast cancer champion. I am one too, and I very much wanted to do that. The number of people diagnosed in the UK went up by 17% between 2006 and 2016. Some 95% of women will survive one year and more than 80% survive five years or more. None the less, every year around 11,500 women and 80 men in the UK still die from breast cancer.
I have asked the Minister about the drugs fund many times, and so many other hon. Members have mentioned it that it would be remiss of me not to do so. The threshold is £30,000, and Wes Streeting mentioned putting a price on the drugs that help a young child survive. In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has now endorsed the NICE recommendations on Kadcyla, Ibrance, Kisqali and Perjeta, as a result of the flexibility shown by NICE, tough negotiation by NHS England and willingness to compromise on price by the pharmaceutical industry. However, this flexibility, negotiation and compromise can lead to long delays in decisions. I urge the Minister to consider how we could best provide access to drugs more quickly and urgently to increase the quality time that people have to spend with their loved ones.
I want to put on record my thanks to Cancer Research, Macmillan, Marie Curie and others that make the difference to the quality of life that those who suffer from cancer experience. We must push forward and keep doing all we can, and know in the end that we gave all we had to fight this disease that affects our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, grandchildren, even the person we buy our paper from—all the people we meet every day. Cancer is a blight on society, but if we continue to fight on, someday we will be able to say that we have won, and cancer has lost.
I am really glad to join friends this afternoon to pay tribute to Tessa’s work. I remember from the last Labour Government how, with Tessa and others, we kept our sanity even when the difficulties were on our own side—some things never change. We were accused of plotting at our dining club, but the only plots were about who would cook the next meal. What I remember is the laughter and joy of those soirées at each other’s homes.
Tessa was our first Public Health Minister, and I am so proud and glad that I am also part of that illustrious band. I am sure that she and her family would agree that Labour was best when it was at its boldest, and we have a chance to be bold by supporting Tessa’s initiative here today.
I am grateful for the opportunity to sum up the debate on behalf of the Scottish National party, and to acknowledge speeches by the hon. Members for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), for Croydon North (Mr Reed), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Hove (Peter Kyle), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and by the right hon. Members for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire).
As a new Member of the House this has been a very strange week for me, and it is the first time that I have felt quite a lot of emotions. Sometimes the public watch these debates and see Members of Parliaments slinging mud at each other across the Chamber, but no one could help but be moved by some of the incredibly personal speeches that have been made today, and that reminds those watching that we are all human beings after all. People have shared deeply personal stories, and it has been a real privilege to sit through this debate.
Like other Members, I pay tribute to Baroness Jowell for her bravery and for the moving speech that she made in the Lords. I know that when we watched that speech most of us were moved to tears, and I am glad she is here today. I also wish to acknowledge the late Dr Mo Mowlam. I was disappointed that she was airbrushed out of much of the media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, because as an outsider looking in, I cannot help feeling that that agreement would not have been achieved without her. I am currently reading her book, and I cannot help but be moved by the effort that she put into Northern Ireland, and she did all that while going through an illness as well.
As an MP from Scotland, I want to offer a bit of experience from north of the border about our cancer strategies, and describe the commitment and improvement that we want for children and young people with cancer—I will return to that point. There is no doubt that we face many challenges, not just in Scotland but across the UK, when it comes to cancer. One problem we need to grapple with is obesity, which is the second highest cause of cancer. We must be as bold about diet and obesity as we have been about tobacco and alcohol, and everyone should consider that. That is definitely a challenge for me—my colleagues are not here, but they know that I do not have the best diet in the world, and diet and food choices are a real challenge when combating obesity.
We must also channel some focus on to free school meals and the choices made by children. Sometimes we think that cancer is just bad luck or something that comes to people, but there are things we can do to try to avoid it. For example, we know that advertising junk food harms people and puts pressure on the NHS, other public services and our economy. There is clear evidence of the need to curb the marketing of food and drink that is high in fat, salt and sugar. A large number of 11 to 18-year-olds have seen television adverts for those foods, and nearly half of those surveyed had made a purchase based on the marketing they had seen in previous days. We should consider banning such adverts during programmes for children and those under 16, because if we are serious about tackling obesity and reducing the prevalence of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, we must make it as easy as possible for young people to eat healthily and have a good diet. That means seriously reconsidering the marketing of unhealthy food and drink, and reducing exposure to such advertising on TV.
Before I conclude I want briefly to consider cancer and young people. We know from CLIC Sargent that around 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK. Every day, 11 children and young people hear the news that they have cancer, and every week 10 children and young people die from cancer in the UK. Cancer is the most common fatal disease for teenagers and young adults in the UK. CLIC Sargent’s 2016 research found that young cancer patients often had a long and difficult route to diagnosis, which they felt had a detrimental impact on their treatment and experience.
Cancer costs families in many ways, including financially, as parents report an average additional expense of £600 for every month that their child is on treatment—the hon. Member for Ilford North touched on that. Some of the expenses are travel, extra food, energy bills and car-related costs, including parking. Families are travelling an average of 440 miles a month to access treatment for their children. At this juncture, I want to commend Robert Halfon, who has been an assiduous campaigner in calling on the Government to scrap hospital car parking charges in England—they do not affect us in Scotland—for young cancer patients and their families.
We have had a good and very moving debate, and I am sure we will return to this subject again, hopefully with more progress. I close by thanking Sarah Jones for giving us the opportunity to discuss this hugely important topic. Above all, I want to thank the noble Baroness Jowell for joining us here today. We are all the richer for having her with us.
It is a genuine pleasure to be speaking in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. Indeed, I am speaking in this Chamber for the second time today. Both debates have been on very important issues.
I thank my hon. Friend Sarah Jones for securing the debate, and for her very moving and emotional speech. I also want to thank the other hon. Members who have spoken in this excellent debate: James Brokenshire, my hon. Friend Helen Hayes, George Freeman, my hon. Friend Mr Reed, Fiona Bruce, my hon. Friend Peter Kyle, Kevin Foster, my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander, Rachel Maclean, my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who moved us all to tears, Jim Shannon, my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint and David Linden. They all made excellent contributions. Members throughout the House have been visibly moved by the moving testimonies we have heard.
As has been said, no one in the House or in the country escapes being touched at some time in their life by cancer. I lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer 21 years ago. That was one of the reasons why I joined the all-party group on breast cancer and work with it to this day. I thank the Secretary of State for being here. I am very pleased to see him back in place. I know that Tessa and others will be very grateful for his attendance, and for the personal and moving tribute he gave earlier. I also thank the shadow Secretary of State, who also made a personal tribute to Tessa.
I pay enormous tribute to our very good friend and colleague from the other place, Tessa, for her bravery and determination, and for the outstanding speech she gave in the other place. That was another occasion when people were visibly moved to tears, not just in the other place but across the country as it ran on the news all day. She is as much an inspiration now as she has always been throughout her political career. In 1997, as we have heard, she became the first Public Health Minister—she is a predecessor of the Minister who will be responding today. With the then Secretary of State for Education, Lord Blunkett, she set out to build Sure Start, the early years programme of which she should be immensely proud. It has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of children across the country and been a lifeline for parents, some of whom have said that without it they do not think they would even be here today.
I am enormously proud to have played, in a very small way, a part in continuing the fight for early years provision over 20 years on. When I became shadow Children’s Minister, Tessa’s personal support, advice and guidance were invaluable in helping me fight to protect the legacy she had built. I remember one particular conversation when she said that she had told her officials that she wanted to walk into a Sure Start children’s centre and be able to smell the babies, so she would know the centres were being used and that lives were being changed.
Tessa’s optimism and ambition has affected us all over the years, especially in the run-up to, and in the aftermath of, the 2012 London Olympics, which, as we heard in detail, she secured as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Even since her diagnosis, Tessa continues to inspire us all with her hard work and determination. I wish her all the love in the world, and I really look forward to joining her a little later with her friends and family for a get-together.
As Tessa said in the other place:
“Today…is not about politics but about patients”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 788, c. 1169.]
I know from my work over many years chairing or co-chairing two cancer all-party groups that we can and do work together when it comes to tackling cancer. The Minister and I co-chaired the all-party group on breast cancer, along with the former hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Dame Annette Brooke. I am still vice-chair of that all-party group, and I pay tribute to my fellow officers for continuing their hard work in the group to raise awareness in Parliament of breast cancer.
I also chair the all-party group on ovarian cancer. Observant Members may have noticed that there is always some cancer campaign going on, and last month it was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For the first time, the all-party group hosted a drop-in photo call, challenging MPs and peers to be a “teal hero”. This included wearing a superhero mask and a cape—I do not know whether the Minister came along and managed to get caught—to raise awareness among our constituents of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. I am sad to say that my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne, who lost his mum to ovarian cancer when he was a teenager, came along and, complete with a superhero pose, pipped me to the post for “best picture”. I hope that colleagues will join me again next year—I will be looking out for the Minister. Although it was fun, it was for a very important purpose: to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Finally in this regard, I pay tribute to Mr Baron for his sterling work as chair of the all-party group on cancer, which regularly unites all the cancer charities and all-party groups in debates and in work throughout the year, and most notably at the Britain Against Cancer conference every December. All-party groups and the many other cancer groups are the perfect example of how cancer is not about politics. I believe that we have seen that exemplified in its best form in the House today, and that in future we can put our politics aside for Tessa and for all cancer patients and truly fight cancer together.
Around 11,400 people were diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in 2015 in the UK. That includes the approximately 470 children under the age of 15 who are diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in Britain each year. I also commend HeadSmart for the work that it does to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children. Brain tumours are the largest single cause of death from cancer in adults under the age of 40, and the most common type of solid tumour in children.
There are, of course, challenges to brain tumour research that limit progress in developing innovative treatments. As we have heard, brain tumour research in the UK has been grossly underfunded, with just 1% of the national spend on cancer research being allocated to this devastating disease. That is why the recent announcement that £45 million would be invested in brain tumour research was so very welcome. I hope that some of the funding will be used to create opportunities for collaboration so that research and data can be shared around the world, because there are real and concerning gaps in the research workforce, both at a senior level and in the number of junior researchers entering the field.
There is also insufficient infrastructure for brain research, and the research community is fragmented, with no clear hubs of excellence and limited opportunities for collaboration. We need to address those challenges for the sake of patients and their families so that we can improve the lives of those living with a brain tumour. One way to do that is to ensure that all brain tumour patients are invited to participate in clinical trials, which can lead to significant improvements in survival and quality of life for future patients diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, despite the clear correlation between greater research and improved outcomes, only 3% of people with a brain tumour take part in a clinical trial. That compares with 7% across all cancers, so what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that brain tumour patients are entered into clinical trials?
In June 2017, the Brain Tumour Charity conducted a survey that found that 97% of those with a brain tumour said that they would be happy to share their medical data to help to accelerate research. As we have heard, Tessa has made the historic decision to be the first patient to consent to sharing her data in the hope that her cancer journey can contribute to new cures that alleviate future suffering. Let me again take the opportunity to commend her for her selflessness. I know that where she leads, others will naturally follow.
For Tessa, the Olympic legacy and Sure Start are just two of many legacies to be proud of, but I think that this legacy will be even greater in its reach and importance. For that, we once again thank you, Tessa.
On one of the hottest days for a long time, and certainly the hottest day of the year so far, being inside the House of Commons and listening to some of the speeches that have been made has been an absolute privilege. It has been an experience that I, as a Minister—let alone as a Member of Parliament—will remember for a long time.
Let me first thank Sarah Jones for securing the debate. I thought she spoke brilliantly, and set the tone for the last two-and-a-bit hours. But we should not beat around the bush: we are all here primarily because of one person. That person is, of course, Baroness Jowell, who is present, sharing the Chamber with us, and whose strength and grace in the face of her illness have done so much to raise public awareness of the challenges of diagnosing and treating brain cancer. I do not have a long history of knowing the Baroness—in fact, I met her for the first time on Monday—but I am already well aware of her strength of character and her determination to make a difference in this latest campaign.
Like all Members, and especially, I suppose, as the current Minister responsible for cancer issues, I was captivated by the speech that Tessa made in the other place about her latest battle. Our debate today has been emotive and constructive, and I am grateful to the many Members who have had the opportunity to pay a similarly worthy tribute to Tessa’s bravery and determination in the House of Commons. For me—and many Members have said the same—perhaps the most memorable line of the Baroness’s speech in the other place was this:
“In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 788, c. 1170.]
She is giving that line great meaning.
As has been mentioned many times, Tessa also referred in her speech to the importance of living with cancer—living longer with cancer, but living with cancer. As one who was motivated to go into this business in the House by fighting and losing far too many battles against cancer, I would say that, for all of us who are diagnosed with cancer, we are never just our cancer. Tessa is not just her cancer, and she is not just the cancer campaigner that she is now. She is still a mum, and she is still a wife. You spoke at the start, Mr Speaker, about the love. There has been one hell of a love bomb here today. When I have been able to, I have looked over at the Under Gallery, and I have certainly seen some love there this afternoon. It has been incredible and very moving to see it.
I think that what made that line in the speech in the other place so remarkable is that Baroness Jowell has given so much to our country, from being my predecessor as the first ever public health Minister to giving the country one of its greatest cultural events in London 2012. Through her enthusiasm and courage, she is driving people in the country and around the world to confront not just one of oncology’s most difficult challenges, but one of medicine’s most difficult challenges. We should not underestimate what a difficult challenge brain cancer is.
Let me say on behalf of the Government that we will do everything possible to meet the challenge. Those who know me as the cancer Minister know that I am impatient and determined—as is the Secretary of State—to do well, to do better, and then to do better again in fighting the big C, or cancer, or whatever we choose to call it. I say that not out of arrogance or ministerial bluster—I write my own speeches—but because I believe that this challenge is one that we can overcome. I was truly inspired when meeting the Baroness for the first time on Monday at the inaugural meeting of the UK brain tumour steering group, so ably chaired by my colleague Lord O’Shaughnessy, who I know has already become a firm friend of hers. So in my brief remarks I shall focus on three areas where we will do more, and which sum up pretty much what every Member covered in their speeches.
The first area is research. On
To back the report, as all Members will know, the Government and Cancer Research UK together announced an investment of £45 million over the next five years to turbocharge research in this area. This will begin—but only begin—to make up for the historical lack of research in this field and further strengthen a number of our existing centres of excellence in places such as Cambridge and the Institute of Cancer Research here in London.
The National Institute for Health Research spent £137 million on cancer research in 2016-17, the largest investment in any disease area. However, according to Brain Tumour Research, even though brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, as has been said, just 1% of the national spend by all cancer research funders on cancer research has been allocated to brain cancers. That is why—as everyone has said today—we want to move quickly on beginning further research, and I am pleased to say that the NIHR began inviting applications for the new funding this Monday. We urge researchers to apply, and help us generate the breakthroughs that could give hope to the thousands of people diagnosed with brain cancer every year in our country.
My second point is on data sharing. We know that, due to the rarity of many types of brain tumours, it is vital that we use patient data more effectively—Peter Kyle spoke very well about that—ensuring that it is shared safely, securely and lawfully not only between the NHS, charities and academia, but between like-minded countries internationally. The UK has a proud history as a proponent of open data and data sharing, and I give my Government’s commitment to work with the Eliminate Cancer Initiative and partners nationally and internationally to make this a reality on brain tumours. The ECI made the point at our meeting on Monday that patients’ data must be given for the common good, not the almighty shilling; I know that Tessa shares that sentiment. Tessa’s daughter, Jess—who is also here today and whom I met on Monday—said that we support and advocate the sharing of data not as an end in itself, but as a vital means through which to improve patient care and develop new treatments; she is of course a chip off the old block and absolutely right.
Baroness Jowell exemplifies the ambition we have, and we will carry it forward. In the Houses of Parliament tonight, Tessa will launch the global universal cancer databank, and has committed to be the first donor to that databank, which we hope can catalyse the sharing of data across the world and save the lives of many. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be pleased to be there.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I want to touch on patient engagement. We must ensure that patients are at the centre and heart of our work on brain tumours, so we will build on the existing work to develop a clear timeline and plan for reducing the time to diagnosis for brain tumours, which is as important in this cancer as in all others. We will also implement new models of patient care, such as the Cambridge model, and the national roll-out of innovative new tools such as the 5-ALA ‘Pink Drink’, which is very important. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is currently developing a new clinical guideline on brain tumours, which includes the use of 5-ALA, with publication expected in July. We will also redouble the Department’s efforts to ensure there are appropriate and ethical frameworks to allow patient access to experimental medicines, and allow for the re-purposing of drugs and the acceleration of the development of new patient-focused adaptive clinical trials, which is so important.
Many Members have spoken so well in this debate. I will not list them all, but it was a pleasure to see my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire back in his place, making his first speech from the Back Benches in a long time. I worked closely with him when he was in the Northern Ireland Office; he is one of the nicest guys in Parliament and he spoke brilliantly about #KeepOliviaSmiling—and it was good to see my right hon. Friend smiling again. He talked about ring-fencing money in the NIHR for brain tumour research for children. The level of research spend in a particular area, such as child-specific tumours, depends on the number and scale of successful funding applications. He will be aware of our joint announcement in February, which included the opening of Cancer Research UK’s new children’s brain tumour centre of excellence at the University of Cambridge. Maybe he will go along and have a look at that at some point.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce spoke well about prostate cancer, and I was proud that we were able to make that announcement last week. My hon. Friend Kevin Foster spoke about the ACE programme. I have said before that I do not easily get excited at the Dispatch Box, but I am genuinely excited about these new ACE multidisciplinary diagnostic centres. When people present to their GP with vague symptoms, these centres will provide a chance for them to get in and get an answer—a diagnosis or an all-clear—quickly. I visited one of the ACE centres, at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, in February this year. The enthusiasm that I heard from the clinicians and patients there gave me real hope, and hope is a key word in today’s debate.
I should like to conclude by once again thanking everyone who has made such positive contributions to what has been a really memorable debate. I recognise that we are only at the start of our journey to beat brain tumours, but now is the time for patients, the NHS, charities and industry to come together—as we in this House have done today—both nationally and internationally and to redouble our efforts. The funding we have committed for additional vital research, and our ongoing work to look at every aspect of diagnosis, treatment and care, will help us to deliver ever more positive treatment outcomes for people with brain tumours, but we have a long way to go. This is of course happening alongside our system-wide transformation of cancer services in England through the cancer strategy, which we have debated at length here many times.
Baroness Jowell has been the catalyst for this rapid activity on brain tumours, and it is incumbent on us all to continue to work closely together over the coming months and years to build on this legacy. She is here today, and I know that she will be watching us closely. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, now is the time for
“painful effort…grim energy and resolute courage” to beat this terrible disease. And, as I always conclude: for team cancer, the fight goes on.
I should like to thank everyone who has spoken so eloquently and movingly today. I cannot name everyone in the time remaining, but I often stand in awe of the Members of this House, and no more so than today. We have had quite a harrowing week in this place, and it has sometimes been quite dark and difficult. There has been a lot of shouting. However, we have closed the week by talking about human kindness, compassion, love and hope. That is what a drop of Tessa magic does for this place. When I saw Tessa just before the debate, she said that this was not about her or about us, and that she wanted it to be about what comes next and what we should do. I hope—and I have faith—that the Government will prove that Tessa’s model of collaboration is more effective than the model of confrontation that we have unfortunately seen so much of this week.
I have here a note from Tessa that I would like to read out. This is odd, because she is just over there, and she could say this herself, but I shall read out a little bit of what she wanted me to say today:
“Living with cancer has taught me so much. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by such love from my family, friends and fellow cancer patients. And today, hearing so many of you talk about your own fights, reminds me why I love this Palace of Westminster and the people who work here. It was a brilliant Member of this House, who spent far too short a time here, who said ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us’, and today shows how much we can do when we all put our shoulders to the wheel. It was the honour of my life to be one of you, and I shall cheer on from the sidelines as you keep fighting the good fight. So remember our battle cry: living with, not dying of, cancer. For more people, for longer. Thank you.”
In rounding off these proceedings, before we move to the Adjournment, perhaps I can thank warmly and from the bottom of my heart Sarah Jones for securing the debate, for what she said in opening it and for the manner in which she did so. I think I speak for everybody in thanking all participants in the debate, both those who made speeches and those who intervened with great piquancy and significance—I say that looking directly at the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and, in his absence, thinking of the shadow Secretary of State. Their presence meant an enormous amount.
At the outset of the debate, I asserted with absolute confidence that Tessa was about to witness and experience real parliamentary love—the embrace of parliamentary love. I hope that the warmth of that embrace of parliamentary love has been manifest to her. She cannot have been in any way disappointed by it. Tessa, you are the standing testament to the indomitability of the human spirit and we have heard about that from people who know you so well in so many aspects of your life. I am quite certain, although I do not know it from personal experience—I can see it from the impact on those around you—that it is true of you as a wife and as a mother. It is assuredly true of you as a distinguished Member of Parliament—the Member, for so long, for the people of Dulwich and West Norwood. I thought that what your successor said about the affection and esteem in which you continue to be held there was worth everything.
It was most certainly true of you as a Government Minister, the details of which have been lovingly recalled to the Chamber this afternoon. Of course, we all know of the significance of what you did on the Olympics and, if I may say so, the significance of what you did by way of Sure Start and early years opportunity. When I briefly did a little work in a support capacity on speech and language services a decade ago, I trogged around the country—what a privilege it was—and visited huge numbers of such settings. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the work you did and the translation from conception to execution transformed the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens. That is part of your amazing public service legacy.
As somebody who is living with cancer you have shone a light on a cruel curse and the need for collaborative, resourced and unflagging devotion to the effort to tackle that curse. The hon. Member for Croydon Central, quoting your letter, said that you loved this place. I hope that it is blindingly obvious to you, Tessa, that we love you—[Applause.] These breaches of parliamentary protocol are becoming more commonplace, but I think that this week we can rejoice in them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
pays tribute to the work of Baroness Tessa Jowell in her campaign to help people with brain tumours to live better lives for longer;
recognises the Government’s increased funding for research;
and calls on the Government to increase the sharing of health data and promote greater use of adaptive clinical trials.