It is an honour to serve under you, Mr Wilson. I congratulate my hon. Friend Henry Smith on bringing the debate to the House. He mentioned the devolved Governments, and I would like to speak about my own part of the country.
In 2015 in the Grampian NHS Board area, which includes my constituency of Gordon, there were 265 new diagnoses of leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, forming one in every 12 diagnoses in the area that year. In the same year, 106 lives in the Grampian area were taken by these cancers. It is crucial, therefore, that we leave no stone unturned in the fight against blood cancers. That includes research and development, on which the UK Government have a strong record that I very much hope will continue. The life sciences sector deal announced last year will provide a welcome boost to the industry and help it to strive towards better ways of treating blood cancers
However, quality NHS care is also important. People with blood cancers deserve the best possible care from the NHS, wherever they are in the country. In that light, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated staff of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, which serves my constituency and covers an area of 500,000 people; indeed, it covers the whole north-east of Scotland right up into the highlands. The work of the staff in its oncology department is second to none and has saved countless lives over the years. The start of treatment in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary’s new radiotherapy department in 2014 was a welcome step forward in the treatment of blood cancers and other cancers in the north-east of Scotland. That state-of-the-art new building has enabled the team to deliver new techniques and new forms of therapy to more and more patients—a development that can only be good.
The hard-working staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary deserve across the board support from the Scottish Government. However, as with Her Majesty’s Government, budgets are constrained. Oncology at the ARI has not been spared, unfortunately, from the long-running staff shortages. For a department that treats cancer patients not just in Gordon but across the north-east of Scotland and even further afield, that is obviously very concerning. Across Scotland, vacancy rates for consultants and nurses are disappointingly high, with 400 consultant posts now unfilled. Both north and south of the border, shortages are damaging. NHS staff and patients alike must have the security of knowing that their local oncology department is, and always will be, adequately staffed and given the support that it deserves.
My family’s experience of the oncology department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and of support from Macmillan nurses has been excellent. There are many ways we can take the fight to blood cancers. Research and development, which has been mentioned, is one vital pillar, and encouraging stem cell donations another. We must be sure to put NHS care at the very centre of our efforts.