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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. Lady for her support. I have been non-partisan on this matter, as I have been as chairman of the all-party group. Both sides have been guilty of trying to score political points on the back of process targets, because no Government have met them all in their entirety; we play this short-term political game when in reality what we need to do is, as best as possible, take the NHS out of politics and encourage long-term thinking. The best approach, at least with regard to cancer, would be to get the NHS to focus on those one-year and five-year survival rates. We could then stand back and say, “You are the medical experts and we are the politicians. We will hold you accountable, but use your expertise now to come up with the best plans to improve your one-year and five-year figures.” That would certainly encourage longer term thinking and funding.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to contribute, so I will not bore everyone with the ins and outs of the all-party group’s efforts to encourage the Government to break the link between the 62 days and the transformation funding, because discussions are still ongoing. However, I will share with the House the fact that I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions back in December. During a positive, subsequent meeting in March, the Prime Minister agreed that all transformation funding should be released immediately, provided that relevant cancer alliances promised to produce a 62-day plan—the promise is the important thing; they did not have to produce them.

I am now in discussions with officials from No. 10 and the DHSC, because the system has been slow in following through what was agreed at that meeting. Following my further question at Prime Minister’s questions last Wednesday, the Prime Minister has agreed to meet me again, should we continue to make insufficient progress. Negotiations are now in train and I hope that we can get the funding released as quickly as possible, without waiting for the alliances to actually hit the 62-day target. The Prime Minister clearly said that she wants the transformation funding released on the promise that they will produce a plan to hit the 62-day target.

In the long term, the NHS needs to rebalance its focus away from process targets in favour of outcome indicators, such as the one-year cancer survival rates, that best help patients. If outcome measures are good and being hit, it follows that the processes will also be good; one cannot have good outcomes if there are not good processes. Patients will be seen and diagnosed in a timely fashion appropriate to their illness. These outcome measures will also have the benefit of allowing the NHS to design services and pathways flexibly, and without the straitjacket imposed by blunt process targets. That is the key issue here: focusing on the outcomes encourages the NHS at the frontline to devise ways of encouraging earlier diagnosis, including better awareness campaigns, wider screening uptake, better GP referral routes and better diagnostics. The NHS is encouraged to make those decisions at the frontline in order to drive forward earlier diagnosis.