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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered NHS cancer targets.
The matters I will raise today, as briefly as possible, are matters I have raised throughout my nine years at the helm of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer. As I near the end of my chairmanship, I thank all those parliamentarians, and the wider cancer community, who have supported and continue to support the group. They have been great stalwarts; the group has achieved much and has much to achieve. I look forward to remaining involved, but at the same time I look forward to handing over the reins.
Despite the fact that, when in government, both main parties have highlighted improving survival rates and supported process targets as a means of driving change, it remains an inconvenient truth that cancer survival rates in England and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom continue to lag well behind the international average. What is more, there is only limited evidence that we are catching up. In 2009, the Department of Health estimated that we could save an extra 10,000 lives a year if we matched European average survival rates. In 2013, the OECD confirmed that our survival rates rank near the bottom compared with other major economies, and for some cancer types only Poland and Ireland fare worse.
Of course, Health Ministers are right to point out that cancer survival rates continue to improve. That is welcome news, but it is not the full story. As our survival rates have improved, so have those of other countries, and there is very little evidence of our closing the gap with international averages, despite the considerable increases in health spending in recent decades. The major inquiry by the APPG on cancer in 2009 uncovered the main reason our survival rates are so far behind international averages. It is not that the NHS is worse at treating cancer—once cancer is detected, NHS treatment generally bears up as strongly as that of other healthcare systems—but that it is not as good at catching cancers in the early stages when treatment has the best chances of success. Late diagnosis, therefore, lies behind our comparatively poor survival rates, and addressing that is the key to improving our cancer performance. Early diagnosis is cancer’s magic key.
So how can we best achieve it? Since the publication of our 2009 report, we as an all-party group and the wider cancer community have come together and successfully campaigned for a one-year cancer survival rate indicator to be built into the DNA of the NHS, especially at a local level. Clinical commissioning groups are now held accountable for their local survival rates through both the delivery dashboard and the Ofsted-style scores.