NHS Blood Cancer Care

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 2:30 pm, 17th January 2018

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the spectre of the financial burden, as well as the psychological pressure that patients and their loved ones face when undergoing treatment. There can often be expensive visits into London or other major city centres to undergo treatment.

I pay tribute to organisations such as Macmillan, which is very worthy of our support and does amazing work for those with not only blood cancers but all chronic and terminal conditions. I ask the Minister for his assurance that, as recommended by the cancer strategy, all blood cancer patients have access to a clinical nurse specialist or equivalent model of support.

One of the points raised in the two oral evidence sessions held by the APPG last September was the work of charities to provide support for patients and their networks. As my hon. Friend Julia Lopez said, a lot more support needs to be given to patients and their families on issues not related to treatment, such as financial advice, so that they can devote their time and energy to getting better.

I have mentioned a number of organisations, but I reiterate the fine work of Macmillan, which offers help to cancer patients and their families up and down the country. In my constituency of Crawley this week, one of the charity’s information hubs will be open in the County Mall shopping centre until Saturday. Its staff are on hand, as they are all the time, to answer questions about symptoms, side effects or any other issue relating to support locally.

We can be thankful that an increasing number of blood cancer patients are living for many years after their diagnosis, and I thank hon. Members for giving examples from their constituencies. The cancer strategy says that all cancer patients will have had access to the recovery package by 2020. That helps patients after their treatment has finished, so that they can return to their normal lives as much as is possible. Of course, there must be recognition that patients can go from having regular access to a healthcare professional while receiving treatment to feeling like they have no support at all after treatment ends. It has been described as like falling off the end of a conveyor belt, with no one to talk to about after-effects, dietary needs and the everyday activities they had enjoyed before treatment started.

I come back to the issue of how blood cancer is different from solid tumour cancers. I hope the Minister and his colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care will work with NHS England to consider how all patients can benefit from aftercare support, including ensuring that the recovery package takes into account the differences. It is difficult to go from, in some cases, constant access to a CNS during treatment, including communication being available by mobile phone, emails and texts, to support coming to an end when a patient is sent home. There are long-term effects of blood cancer that need to be taken into account.

In particular, for patients treated with a stem cell transplant, the transplant itself is only the beginning of a long journey to rebuild their lives. By 2020, it is thought that there will be more than 16,000 people living post-transplant, and a significant proportion of those people will experience long-term side effects of their treatment. They will require specialist support, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that people across England receive it with greater consistency.

I move on to the issue of new treatment access and research on the differences between blood cancers and solid tumour cancers. It is important to remember that blood cancers are often not treatable using surgery or radiotherapy. Blood cancer is therefore more dependent on the development of and access to new drugs in order to continue enhancing patient outcomes.

The process of how the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the drug manufacturers negotiate can affect patients. Where NICE has offered negative draft guidance on a particular cancer drug that, after further negotiations between NICE and the manufacturer, changes to final positive guidance, the period when patients are left to think that potentially life-changing or life-saving treatment may not be available can cause huge anxiety. Our report calls for final negotiations to be undertaken before negative draft guidance is published.

I have mentioned the work of the charity sector in supporting blood cancer patients. That is perhaps most significantly represented by the financial investment made by blood cancer charities to fund research, develop a good research base and ultimately produce relatively good survival rates. I ask the Minister to ensure that further support is given to that research, to not only provide financial backing but ensure that blood cancer patients are at the heart of cancer policy.

I am conscious of allowing other colleagues the opportunity to make substantive remarks, but on the subject of NHS commissioning, local decision makers should look for opportunities to bring care for chronic blood cancers closer to the patient where appropriate. I will be writing to my local clinical commissioning group in Crawley to share a copy of the APPG’s report, and I encourage colleagues to do likewise with their respective CCGs.

I am sure that all of us here today can name people in our local areas, as many hon. Members have, who have experience of dealing with blood cancer in their family and working to raise funds for those who want to make life easier for patients and their support networks. In my constituency of Crawley, I am grateful for the work of the Mark Henry Archer tribute fund at Bloodwise, which was set up by my constituent Jayne Archer in memory of her late husband, Mark, who sadly lost his battle with lymphoma in 2010.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that blood cancer is the most common cancer among people under the age of 30. Someone can be in the peak of physical fitness and it can still strike. Just a week into this new year, Juan Carlos Garcia lost a three-year battle with leukaemia. He was just 29 years old and a professional footballer who had played in England for Wigan Athletic and at the 2014 World cup for Honduras. Blood cancer quite simply can strike anyone at any time.

I would like to thank the patient advocate and medical professionals who took the time to come to Parliament and answer the APPG’s questions at our evidence sessions last September. I also express my sincere gratitude to Bloodwise for providing secretariat support to our APPG, assisting blood cancer patients up and down the country, and playing a leading role in the research that is necessary to improve outcomes and the patient experience.

I know that many people in this room will be aware of one family that has been affected by blood cancer in the last couple of months. The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas and his eight-year-old son Ethan lost their wife and mother Gemma, aged just 40, last November. Just three days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia—the same form of blood cancer as my own mother—Gemma passed away. Incidentally, my mother’s diagnosis came just hours before her death. Our thoughts are with Simon, Ethan and their family and friends, and every patient affected by this disease.

It falls to each of us here to make sure we redouble our efforts to bring as much help, comfort and support to blood cancer patients as possible, and I ask the Minister for his continued diligence in such matters. I have seen at first hand how quickly those who have blood cancer can be taken from us. In a previous debate that I was fortunate to secure in Westminster Hall on 7 July 2016, I said:

“I look forward to ensuring that the issue of blood cancers is further advanced and that awareness is increased.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 395WH.]

With the progress of the APPG and the support of colleagues here and those who will be attending the launch of the group’s report from 4 o’clock in Strangers’ Dining Room, I am pleased to stand here today and say that we are making great strides. There is much more to be done, and we will continue to make progress.