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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 3:36 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is a huge privilege to be able to speak from the Back Benches for the first time since my change in role and position. I cannot think of a better topic to be speaking on than our wonderful NHS. It will not surprise many in this House to hear me champion the NHS in those terms given the experiences that I have had, in a very positive way, within it over the past two years.

In some ways I very much welcome the opportunity of this debate, but there is also a part of me that does not welcome it, because we should have been debating something else today. However, even though we are not able to do so, I remain confident that we will secure a Brexit deal and get it through this House, and that the Prime Minister will remain focused on seeing that we leave with that deal.

This Queen’s Speech is profoundly about responding to the concerns of our constituents out there across the country. It has many good and positive measures, whether on violent crime or on things like building safety, which I care about enormously. I welcome the commitment to follow through with Dame Judith Hackitt’s review by ensuring that there are measures in place to promote safety, so that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. I also welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill and the new statutory duty, which I am sure will raise the standard and provide the level of care and support needed.

I appreciate the emphasis placed on our NHS in the Queen’s Speech, with measures such as the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill and the medicines and medical devices Bill, which I hope and firmly believe will continue to drive the changes we need in outcomes for people with cancer. The NHS long-term plan rightly set out an ambition and intent to diagnose more people with cancer at stage 1 and stage 2, to ensure that we get more people living well with and beyond cancer. That is critical if we are to see, as the NHS long-term plan says, 55,000 more people each year surviving cancer for at least five years after diagnosis. We must give that focus through these measures and further investment to achieve not only the numerical targets but to profoundly change people’s lives. After my diagnosis just under two years ago, I did not know whether I would even be here today to be able to give this speech. That is what we are talking about—this is about saving people’s lives, and with early diagnosis and earlier treatment, we can do that.

I was looking at a report published in the last couple of weeks by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition about the need for speedier diagnosis, and I commend it to the Secretary of State. I welcome the effort being made through the lung health check programme, which I hope to return to during Lung Cancer Awareness Month next month, and the optimal lung cancer pathway, to ensure that people get speedier treatment. In its report, the UKLCC included a profound and very pertinent quote from Sir Mike Richards, the former national cancer director, who said:

“When you receive a diagnosis of suspected lung cancer, it’s not about the number of days until you get access to treatment, but about the number of sleepless nights until you do.”

We need to focus on the overall impact of people receiving a diagnosis and ensure that we make it as effective and speedy as we can, knowing the burden on not just the individual but their loved ones and the pressures it brings. That needs our attention.

If we are to meet the ambition in the NHS long-term plan, we have to shift the dial in relation to lung cancer. There are 47,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year. Sadly, it is the biggest cancer killer, with around 35,000 people dying from lung cancer every year in the UK, equating to nearly 100 people every single day. Only 15% of people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive their disease for five years. That is an unacceptable figure. Why is it the case? Because far too many people are diagnosed in the late stage, when the disease has spread and the options are more limited.

I welcome the innovative drugs that are coming through, which I hope the new legislation will support, and the £200 million investment in CT scanners that the Health Secretary has announced, which is so important. It is crucial that we shift the dial. Over half of us here today will get cancer at some stage in our lives. That is why we need to change the terms of the debate and focus on getting earlier diagnosis and speedier treatment. We also need to be more open and honest. Rather than talking about “the big C”, we should be looking at ways to discuss this far more openly. Through our investment, our plan and the steps set out today, we can turn the debate into one about cancer being a chronic disease that we can live well with and beyond. I hope that the measures we are debating today will help to achieve that.