Non-Invasive Precision Cancer Therapies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:28 pm, 18th July 2019

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Grahame Morris. There is not one Member in this House whose life has not been touched by cancer. My late partner, John, suffered from it and, sadly, lost his battle two years ago, despite excellent treatment from the Royal Blackburn Hospital. I know and sympathise with many constituents struggling through treatment. Major breakthroughs have been made in radiotherapy in the past 10 years, with modern advanced radiotherapy being more precise, curing more patients and producing fewer side effects to the point where patients can continue to work normally; but when comparing cancer services on a global scale, we see that only one quarter of people in the north-west believe that the NHS offers the best cancer care.

Like John, 47,000 men a year in Britain are found to have prostate cancer, and more than 11,500 a year die from the disease. Last October, the University of Birmingham published an article about a breakthrough in treatment. Previously, it was unclear whether there was any benefit to treating the prostate directly with radiotherapy if the cancer had already spread. The research helps to answer the question and has implications beyond prostate cancer. Clinical trials for the disease found that advanced radiotherapy boosted survival rates by 11% for men whose cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes or bones. The result is likely to change the care given to around 3,000 men every year in England alone, and could benefit many more around the world.

I am conscious of the time, so I am going to shorten some of my points, but I still feel that they are important. Until now, it was thought that there was no point in treating the prostate itself if the cancer had already spread because it would be—I have heard those words—like shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. However, the study proved the benefit of prostate radiotherapy for those men. Unlike many new drugs for cancer, radiotherapy is a simple and relatively cheap treatment that is readily available in most of the world. However, there are two main issues with access—the tariffs and the availability of modern radiotherapy machines.

As other Members have said, the current tariff disincentivises trusts from saving money because their income depends on the number of treatments. NHS research has shown that treating prostate cancer patients with 20 treatments, rather than 37, was better for patients and would save the NHS in excess of £20 million a year. I hope the Minister will let me and others know when the current situation will stop. When will NHS England allow trusts to use the radiotherapy equipment that they already have to move to even shorter periods of treatment? A period of five treatments has gradually been adopted around the world for large numbers of prostate cancer patients.

Preston is our nearest radiotherapy centre. It is a very short journey from Blackpool to Preston, but Preston is really struggling with workforce, funding and a shortage of oncologists. At least four of the seven machines there are in the second part of their life. There needs to be funding to provide, sustain and maintain the machines. In October 2016, NHS England announced a £130 million investment to spend on upgrading radiotherapy machines. It was welcome, but that money was merely the underspend from the drugs budget. Of the 260 machines in use, approximately 90 needed replacing by the end of 2017. We must ensure that the machines have a sustainable future.

Finally, I want to echo the asks in the “Manifesto for Radiotherapy” for a one-off £250 million investment and an estimated sustained additional £100 million a year to catch up and provide the advanced, modern radiotherapy and IT networks currently needed in the UK. Experts, charities, clinicians and patients are calling for urgent investment in radiotherapy services. Please, Minister, listen, and support the motion before the House.