NHS Blood Cancer Care

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:38 pm on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:38 pm, 17th January 2018

What a good point. I love the term “survivorship”, which we often hear. It is probably an Americanism, but it is one of ours now. It is a great term because it suggests a positive: we have survived and we will continue to survive and to fight. My officials do not like me using the term “to fight cancer”, but I do think that it is a battle, and a constant battle. Macmillan’s brilliantly moving PR campaign at the end of last year talked about life with cancer. There are lots of people living with chronic conditions. When I visit cancer patients, as I did on Friday in Southampton, I always make a point of asking them what they do when they are not in the cancer ward and what they are planning to do when they finish being in the cancer ward, because their lives are more than their cancer, and they are not their cancer.

From the moment that they are diagnosed, patients benefiting from the recovery package, which we have heard mention of, receive personalised care and support. Working with their care teams, patients develop a comprehensive plan that addresses their physical and mental health requirements, which we have also rightly heard mention of, as well as identifying any other support that they may require. We are working to ensure that every patient in England, including those with blood cancer, has access to the recovery package by 2020. I repeat: if we can do it sooner, we will.

Different cancers affect the body in different ways, and treatment and the recovery journey for someone with blood cancer can vary greatly to those for a patient with a solid tumour cancer. That is why every patient will receive a holistic needs assessment as part of their recovery package. For blood cancer patients, their recovery plan will be personalised to take account of the unique characteristics of blood cancer. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley described the end of treatment as falling off the end of a conveyor belt, which is an expression that I have heard before. In my job I have seen research to the effect that the end of treatment can be more depressing than the moment of diagnosis. That is a really hard thing to say and to accept, but I can well believe, and know from personal experience, that it is true.

That moves us on to psychological support. My hon. Friend makes the point that many patients with a chronic blood cancer diagnosis will sadly never be cured. They will be on a regime of watch and wait, often over many years, to see if the cancer has progressed to a point where treatment needs to begin. That can, understandably, take a huge psychological toll on the patient and their families. That is why the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is so true, and why the recovery package rightly takes a holistic approach and considers the patient’s mental health needs. The Prime Minister has made improving access to mental health services a priority for her Government. There has been a fivefold increase in the number of people accessing talking therapies since 2010, but we know there is much more to do, and I will be watching that like a hawk in my job.

We have heard today about the importance of research. If we are to continue to beat cancer and to better our figures, sustained investment in research is vital. The National Institute for Health Research spent £137 million on cancer research in 2016-17. That represents the largest investment in any disease area. It is thanks to advances in research that more than 90% of children diagnosed with the most common form of childhood leukaemia now survive. However, I recognise that progress in improving survival rates, including for some blood cancers, has been slow and that survival rates remain low. We have heard today that treatment of blood cancer is especially dependent on the development of new drugs and on being able to access them—an obvious truism—and that is why our focus is on not only research, but ensuring that proven innovations are adopted swiftly across the NHS in England. NICE’s fast-track appraisal process, or the FTA, which was introduced in April last year will, we hope, do just that. The FTA process will help to ensure that cancer patients have accelerated access to any clearly effective treatment that represents value for money for what is a publicly funded health service.