Non-Invasive Precision Cancer Therapies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 4:33 pm, 18th July 2019

I completely concur with what you just said, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend Kate Hollern made a very warm and touching speech, which only reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend Grahame Morris that so many people have been touched, in many cases very painfully, by cancer.

My anxiety is that a growing crisis in cancer care is coming in this country. The worst of it is that we may not spot it, because our cancer survival rates are, of course, improving, which is brilliant. Doctors and scientists—pathologists and so on—have done an amazing job in recent years in managing to keep many more people alive, and in this country in particular we have done well, but frankly we started from a very low base compared with other countries in Europe and around the world. I am painfully conscious of that in relation to Wales.

I make no partisan point here, but I will criticise what we are doing in the Welsh NHS at the moment. I do so not out of partisan anger, but simply because we need to get this right. The truth is that cancer survival rates will improve, but not as well as they could do if we managed to get several things right. We have to persuade more people, particularly from poorer backgrounds, to go to the doctor when they have suspicions about their condition. We must also persuade more doctors, particularly those in poorer backgrounds, to refer people on when they think there might be a suspicion of cancer. It is still worrying that, in my patch in south Wales, we still do not refer on enough people, so that they end up being referred much later, when they are in the later stages of cancer. The most galling thing of all for anybody is when they hear, “Well, it’s just a little bit late. If only you had come six months, three months or even four weeks ago, you would have been at stage 2 or stage 1.”

The truth is that we are failing at the moment in the UK, and particularly in Wales. The diagnostic teams in Wales are in far worse nick than they are in Australia, Poland, Scotland, the best area in England, which is the north-east of England—ironically—and the worst area in England. Nine out of 10 consultant radiologist vacancies in Wales have been unfilled for more than a year. We need 105 more radiologists by 2023 if we are to meet the growing demand for CT and MRI scans, which has risen by a third in the past three years. Thirty six per cent of Welsh consultant histopathologists are over 55 —that is much higher than in the rest of the UK—17% of whom are locums, which means that we are paying agency staff over the odds and therefore wasting NHS money.

UK-wide, only 3% of path labs believe that they are adequately staffed at the moment. This is not to attack the Government in any way, but simply to say that we have to recruit more people. In relation to radiotherapy, the Velindre Cancer Centre in South Wales, a wonderful centre, has a target of seeing and treating 98% with radical radiotherapy within 28 days, but that has not been met in any month in the past year. In January, the figure was just 63%. Why does all this matter? It is because time is of the essence when it comes to cancer. Long waits for biopsy results are absolutely terrifying for the individual, but they may also mean that the treatment is delayed, which makes it less effective than it might be. We could save more lives if we had more people working in these services.