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It is a pleasure to follow Jonathan Edwards.
A little earlier, Rachel Maclean accused Labour Members of being rather negative and sending out negative waves. Well, I have some positive waves, but they are radiotherapy waves, and some ideas. I am delighted that the Minister for Health, Stephen Barclay, is on the Treasury Bench; I am sorry he could not join us for the debate earlier, because there were some really good suggestions as to how we can improve the service.
I was disappointed that, despite numerous debates and questions on the cancer strategy, the Chancellor did not mention any further funding for advanced radiotherapy. He said in the statement:
“we agreed that the NHS would produce a 10-year plan, setting out how the service will reform, how waste will be reduced, and exactly what the British people can expect to get”—[Official Report,
Vol. 648, c. 656.]
I declare an interest, as a cancer survivor who was successfully treated with both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I am also now a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on radiotherapy.
I am not alone in having benefited from radiotherapy. About one in four people receive some form of radio- therapy during their lives, and almost half of us will be diagnosed with cancer in the UK at some point in our lifetime. Those stark facts will, I hope, remind the Government how important it is that we invest in modern and accessible cancer treatments. Delivering the recommendations set out in the cancer strategy is crucial to improving care and support for thousands of people affected by cancer. I like to participate in the knockabout and the political point scoring as much as anyone, as Members probably know, but I am not trying to make a party political point about the nature of this policy. I am simply trying to emphasise that it requires resources, a plan, a strategy and commitment.
I have regularly raised advanced radiotherapy and its benefits and have advocated further investment in research into it. Given the cost, investment and research should be evidence-based, but there are some very exciting areas. I went to see the new proton beam therapy machine at the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Northumberland, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Ian Lavery. I saw the installation of a proton beam therapy bunker and the advanced equipment there, as well as stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy, or SABR; adaptive radiotherapy based on advanced imaging, which is a form of magnetic resonance imaging combined with a linear accelerator; combinations of radiotherapy and new drugs; biomarkers, so that radio- therapy can precisely target cancer cells; and molecular radiotherapy.
I also recently visited the Elekta facility in the constituency of Henry Smith, in the company of my fellow vice-chair of the APPG on radiotherapy, Gillian Keegan, and Professor Patricia Price from the Royal Marsden Hospital. We saw these machines being built and developed. This is very impressive technology and it is being developed here in the United Kingdom.
Not only does SABR treat cancers that conventional therapy cannot but the advanced nature of the treatment is such that patients need only be irradiated four or five times, rather 20, as was the case with conventional radiotherapy. It is not only more effective, but it would save our cancer centres money. More importantly, it can dramatically reduce the number of times that patients are exposed to radiation while still destroying the cancerous tumours.
Although it is needed in over 50% of cases, access to radiotherapy in England is patchy, varying from 25% to 49% depending on the region, with the average being around 38%. Ideally, according to research by Cancer Research UK, patients should have to travel no more than 45 minutes to access this form of treatment, and considerable investment is going to be needed to achieve that. Only 5% of the NHS cancer budget is currently spent on radiotherapy—5% of the cancer budget, not of the total NHS budget—which is £383 million. More investment is needed to increase access to modern radio- therapy because that will increase cancer survival.
I encourage all Members of the House and Ministers to read the “Manifesto for Radiotherapy”, which highlights the importance, and the important benefits, of increasing the percentage of spend on radiotherapy. Increasing it quite modestly—from 5% currently to 6.5% of the cancer budget—would secure a world-class radiotherapy service. Let us not forget that one of the justifications for the huge health and social care reforms put forward by the Government was the poor cancer survival rates. Currently, our cancer survival rates are the second worst in Europe, so there is a deal of work to do.
I suggest that investment in radiotherapy would not only enable treatment of large numbers of cancer patients, save lives and achieve better outcomes but bring positive economic benefits. I commend it to the Minister for Health and urge him to look at it as part of the cancer strategy.