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Cancer Targets — [Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 1st May 2018.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:42 pm, 1st May 2018

I will not give way. I remember Mr Streeter’s ruling.

There are eight cancer waiting time standards and, since one in two of us born since 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, they are an important indicator—to patients, clinicians and politicians and the public—of the quality of cancer diagnosis, treatment and care that NHS organisations provide to millions of our constituents every year. They are a component of the success we have had with survival rates, so it is good that we are discussing them here today. I use the word “target” cautiously, because I have always been clear that standards should not necessarily be targets. If someone has a suspected cancer, 28 days is 28 lifetimes too long—I will talk about the urgent diagnostic centres in a moment. Sometimes we are not trying to get to the maximum, so “target” can be a misleading term.

As has been said, we are currently meeting six of the eight standards. One of those we are not meeting is the 62 days from urgent GP referral for suspected cancer to first treatment, which is important because we want to ensure that patients receive the right treatment quickly, without any unnecessary delays. The standards contribute to cancers being diagnosed earlier—only “contribute to”—and that is crucial to improving our survival rates. However, our rates have historically lagged behind those of some of the best-performing countries in Europe and around the world. That is why we have the cancer strategy; we want to do better. The primary reason for those rates is late diagnosis. Early diagnosis is, indeed, the magic key. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay has used that term many times—I have heard him use it at the Britain Against Cancer conference—and he is absolutely spot on.

Going back to the 62-day standard and the recovery thereof, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay will know that due to factors such as an ageing population and the increase in obesity, which we have touched on, the incidence of cancer is increasing. The NHS is treating more patients for cancer than ever before. It is testament to the hard work of NHS staff across all four nations of our United Kingdom that we are treating more people, and do so with the care and compassion for which we know the NHS is world-renowned. However, those numbers are making the achievement of the 62-day standard challenging. To be perfectly honest, the standard has not been met since December 2015 and, although we do not yet have the figures for March 2018, it is unlikely to have been met in 2017-18 either. However, we remain committed to the standard and want to see it recovered. That is why, through this year’s mandate from the Secretary of State to NHS England, we have agreed that the standard will be achieved in 2018-19, while we maintain performance against other waiting time standards.