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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (North of England) (Northern Powerhouse) 4:58 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is an honour to follow Henry Smith, who made some excellent points. I am not alone in this debate in wanting to peddle a manifesto, but in my case it is the manifesto of the all-party parliamentary group on radiotherapy, which I hope I can encourage Members of all parties to take very seriously. Fifty per cent. of people with cancer—which we have already established is going to be half of us at some point during our lives—need radiotherapy, yet only 5% of the cancer budget is spent on radiotherapy. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the NHS long-term plan rightly identifies the need to diagnose more cancers earlier. Early diagnosis is massively important. The United Kingdom stands below average among European countries for cancer survival for nine out of 10 cancers, and has the second-worst survival rate in Europe for lung cancer. Only in September, The Lancet demonstrated that we have the worst survival rate for cancers across a range of comparable countries.

Poor survival rates are, in part, down to late diagnosis, but they also are down to poor access. The increase in early diagnosis that I hope will result from the NHS long-term plan’s success will of course increase demand for radiotherapy. There is no provision within the NHS long-term plan to provide that radiotherapy to deal with the extra demand that ought to be created if it is successful.

Radiotherapy is used for curative purposes eight times more than chemotherapy, yet, as I said, it gets only a fraction of the investment. The all-party group discovered during our inquiry that 20,000 people in the United Kingdom who would benefit from radiotherapy treatment are not getting it, and nor are 24% of people living with stage 1 lung cancer. That is largely down to poor geographical access to radiotherapy treatment. Despite the fact that all 52 cancer centres in England are enabled for precise SABR—stereotactic ablative radiotherapy—technology, only 25 of them are commissioned to deliver it. That means that 27 of the cancer centres in England using the tariff are being rewarded for using less effective radiotherapy and penalised for using more effective radiotherapy. Fixing that would be free, by the way, but for months and months NHS England has been refusing to deal with it.

The all-party group found that, when new satellite centres from existing large cancer centres are built, there is an average 20% increase in demand for them. That proves that there is unmet demand in our communities for radiotherapy. People live too far from the radiotherapy centre. I therefore ask Ministers to consider our local proposal in South Lakes for a satellite centre at Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal. We have been campaigning for that for many years. We have an excellent cancer treatment centre at the Rosemere centre in Preston. There is nothing wrong with the Rosemere centre whatsoever; it treated my dear late mother. The only problem is that it is too flipping far away for those of us who live in the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales.

I accompanied a young woman called Kate on one of her many trips to Preston to get treatment. It was a three-hour round trip, and she lives at the south end of my constituency. Only last week, I went to a prostate pals meeting in a pub in Kendal, where there were several men who are making four-hour round trips every day for six weeks, which is often debilitating financially as well as physically. That is why we desperately need that cancer centre at Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal, linked to the Rosemere satellite. Longer journeys mean that people have shorter lives. An older lady called Liz diagnosed with skin cancer told me, again not very long ago, that she was choosing to decline the radiotherapy treatment that had been recommended by her oncologist. Why? Because of her age, she just could not cope with the journey. So Liz made the conscious choice to have a shorter life because the journey that she would have to take to get the treatment was too long.

Will the Minister accept the radiotherapy manifesto in full to enact all the things that are set out within it, as agreed cross-party? I am bound to ask, on behalf of the people of my communities in South Lakes, that we invest now to end the long, long wait for people to have a radiotherapy satellite unit at our hospital, the Westmorland General in Kendal.