Support for Cancer Patients

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 3 October 2023.

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Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative

(Translated)

2. What is the Welsh Government doing to support cancer patients? OQ60008

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:35, 3 October 2023

Llywydd, huge efforts have been made in recent years to improve early referral of people with symptoms to cancer services. The record number of patients informed each month of the outcome of that referral is encouraging evidence of success.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative

Thank you for your response, First Minister. I recently met with Young Lives vs Cancer to find out more about the work that they do. They explained that children and young people with cancer, and their families, often have to travel great lengths to attend specialist care. On average, families in Wales are forced to travel 534 miles a month, and spend nearly £300 a month to receive treatment. First Minister, I'm sure you'll agree with me that nobody with cancer should be forced to travel hundreds of mile, nor spend hundreds of pounds just to receive vital treatment. Many families, as a consequence, are having to cut back on essentials, such as food, in a bid to meet the costs of getting treatment. This is just unacceptable. But one way to combat this issue is to set up a young cancer patient travel fund, which will meet the costs of travelling for treatment. The sum of money needed in setting up a fund like this in Wales is around about £500,000. I'm sure you'll agree, First Minister, that £500,000 is minimal when compared to the vast amount of cash the Welsh Government is spending, perhaps, on other projects. So, First Minister, will you commit to looking into creating a fund to support children with cancer, and their families, who are going through the unthinkable right now? Thank you.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:36, 3 October 2023

Llywydd, I understand that travelling to and from appointments for cancer treatment places a burden on families, particularly where, in order to get the best specialist treatment that is available, that has to be some distance from people's homes. Our figures show that there are around 113 new diagnoses of cancer every year amongst people aged under 25. Now, the Welsh Government already has, through the NHS, a travel cost reimbursement scheme. You have to meet the qualifying criteria for it at all, but the scheme does exist. And the Welsh ambulance service provides non-emergency patient transport services for people attending oncology appointments. What the Minister has asked the Welsh ambulance service to do is to look at the number of non-emergency patient journeys that it is delivering for children and young people who are accessing cancer care, and that will give us better information to continue to explore some of the issues that the campaigners raise and which the Member has highlighted this afternoon.

Photo of Buffy Williams Buffy Williams Labour 1:37, 3 October 2023

First Minister, last month, along with other Members, I visited the brand-new Snowdrop Breast Centre, just around the corner from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. The £2 million state-of-the-art facility, partnership funded by Welsh Government and the local health board, will make a huge difference to residents suffering with breast cancer, with referrals being made straight from GPs. From correspondence with the health Minister, I understand that another diagnostic and treatment hub is due to open very near to the Snowdrop centre site in 2025. The ambition is to get the facility open sooner, to begin construction works in 2024 and to provide temporary diagnostic capacity at the site by April 2024. Will the First Minister please provide an update on these timescales and what support the Welsh Government can provide to support the health board's ambition of opening the hub sooner? Diolch.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:38, 3 October 2023

I thank Buffy Williams for that, Llywydd, and thank her for what she said about her visit, with others, to the Snowdrop centre. The site adjacent that she refers to is the site purchased by Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, with help from the Welsh Government. This has happened in the context of how long it normally takes to develop health service facilities very rapidly, because it was only in June 2022 that the health board were approached by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council with the idea of purchasing the building—the building previously used by British Airways—and purchase of the site occurred in early 2023. The current occupants of the site are due to vacate it about now, and that means that early work will be possible on a temporary facility, available for a diagnostic service on the site, we hope, by spring 2024. The formal start of construction will happen in 2025, but, as Buffy Williams has said, Llywydd, all parties are working together to see whether this date can be brought forward and whether there can be some temporary use for diagnostic purposes at that site in the meantime. And it will undoubtedly, as the Member has said, add to the services available to patients in her constituency and those nearby.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 1:40, 3 October 2023

(Translated)

Most of us will have attended a Macmililan coffee morning over the past few days, so we should start by thanking Macmillan for their work. On a personal level, I'm grateful for what they did to help members of my own family. But, the best way of supporting cancer patients is to secure early diagnosis. And one of the most stubborn cancers is lung cancer. It is possible to identify lung cancer through a screening programme, but there is no targeted screening programme here in Wales. So, when can we look forward to seeing such a screening programme for lung cancer in Wales?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:41, 3 October 2023

(Translated)

Well, Llywydd, I agree, of course, with what the Member said about the importance of screening services, and we have a number of programmes in Wales that do excellent work. We depend on the advice that we receive to consider whether there is more that we can do. I can ask the Minister to write to you about the latest situation in terms of what the advice coming from the committee on the UK level is and how we can do more in this area.