Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 1:31 pm, 16th January 2020

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his point about mental health issues and some of the stresses and strains, and there is a need for greater focus and attention on teenage cancer patients. That leads me on to my next point, which is about the need to overcome the fear that a diagnosis can bring. I know what that can feel like. Early diagnosis and speedier treatment are key, not least to reduce the worry and sleepless nights that result from knowing something is wrong by getting something done about it. It is great that the NHS long-term plan recognises that. By 2028, the plan commits to improving cancer survival dramatically, increasing the proportion of cancers diagnosed early from a half to three quarters. That is why the NHS Funding Bill, with its commitment to an extra £33.9 billion a year for the NHS, is especially important.

There is, however, a question around how we turn the increased investment and that intent into the reality of improved outcomes. That is why we need to focus on what I term the “SAS”: better screening for the disease, greater awareness of the disease, and a breaking of the stigma attached to the disease. By doing that, we can make a real step change. I welcome the introduction of the targeted lung cancer screening programme, which I championed, and which is being rolled out as we speak. I commend the charities and the regular campaign events to highlight the symptoms and, yes, the importance of getting things checked out—especially for us blokes, who can be pretty rubbish at actually going to the doctors and doing something about it. The stigmas are linked to that, and we need to talk about the big C, because it is the disease that dare not speak its name. False judgments can be made, especially with something like lung cancer, because people may make wrongful assumptions that it must be perhaps the sufferer’s fault as they must have smoked. However, as one leading clinician said so effectively and succinctly at a recent conference I attended, “If you have got lungs, you can get lung cancer.”

All this needs to be looked at in context. We need the right workforce in place with the right equipment and the right systems and processes to back it all up. I welcome the Government’s commitment to increased investment in CT scanners and to increasing the overall number of nurses, but we need to recognise the particular role of specialist nurses and the incredible difference that they make. I look forward to the publication of Baroness Harding’s workforce planning review, and I hope that it sees this special group of nurses strengthened and supported and that their numbers will be increased.

There can be no doubt about the pressures that exist within the system and the increasing demands that our NHS has to meet, but the overwhelming experience of most people who use and rely on our NHS is positive, with a real appreciation of just how special it is. We need to continue to stand up for it, to champion it and to be positive about what more it can achieve. I have every confidence that we will and, in doing so, that we will help improve the lives of people it serves and the people we are privileged to serve as Members of this House.