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Cancer Targets — [Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 1st May 2018.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay 2:30 pm, 1st May 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I am aware of those statistics, and I will come to the 62-day target specifically later in my address. He is right to say that many CCGs and cancer alliances are not close to achieving many of those targets. That is obviously a problem when treating cancer, but it highlights a bigger issue: we should be focusing on outcome indicators rather than process targets as a means of encouraging earlier diagnosis. I will address his point specifically in a moment.

We tried very hard to get the one-year survival rates into the DNA of the NHS. The Government listened, and we now have CCGs being held accountable for their one-year survival rates, which is good news. The logic is simple: earlier diagnosis makes for better survival rates, so by holding CCGs to account for their one-year figures and, in particular, the actual outcomes, we encourage the NHS to promote earlier diagnosis and therefore improve detection.

A key advantage of focusing on outcome measures is that it gives the local NHS the flexibility to design initiatives tailored to their own populations to improve outcomes. CCGs can therefore choose whether to widen screening programmes, promote better awareness of symptoms, establish better diagnostic capabilities in primary care, embrace better technology or perhaps improve GP referral routes—any or all of those, in combination—to try to promote earlier diagnosis, which in turn will improve the one-year cancer survival rate figures.

Rather than the centre imposing a one-size-fits-all policy, the local NHS has been given the freedom to respond to and focus on local priorities, whether that be lung cancer in the case of former mining communities or persuading reticent populations to attend screening appointments. As an all-party group we try to do our bit. Each summer, the group hosts a parliamentary reception to celebrate with the 20 or so CCGs that have most improved their one-year survival rates. Successive cancer Ministers have supported that in the past, including the incumbent.

There is strong evidence, however, that that outcome indicator is being sidelined by hard-pressed CCG managements, who are focused on those process targets that are connected to funding. If the process targets are missed, there is a cost; if the one-year figures are missed, there is not. In recent decades, the NHS has been beset by numerous process targets that, instead of measuring the success of treatment, measure the performance against process benchmarks, such as A&E waiting times.