Cervical Cancer Smear Tests — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:52 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:52 pm, 28th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger—I shall refer to you again in a moment. I feel somewhat outnumbered, along with Christian Matheson and my hon. Friend John Howell, but I am rather used to that, having chaired the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer for five years with the shadow Minister, Mrs Hodgson. We were often referred to as “Steve and the girls”.

I completely endorse the point by Angela Crawley that this is not a women’s issue. Natasha, whom I will come to in a moment, had four children—two of each. It is very much a boys’ issue for them, as it is across the board. [Interruption.] We may have heard the B-word only once during the debate, but I could have sworn I just heard something from outside. I must be imagining things.

It has been a privilege to be part of this debate. It is only right that I start by expressing my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Natasha Sale, who tragically passed away in December. I know I speak on behalf of all Members present when I say that our thoughts are with her family and friends. Anybody who has lost a loved one to cancer knows the pain and anguish that the family are experiencing due to Natasha’s loss. As somebody who has fought and lost more than I have won, I am one of those people. In some of the coverage of Natasha’s death, I saw a quote from Amanda Scott, her best friend, who said:

“God only takes the best”.

I thought that was a lovely quote. We have heard that many times before, but I was interested in how that was reported.

As the Minister responsible for public health and cancer, cancer prevention and early diagnosis are vital priorities for me. I am delighted to see Natasha’s army here today. I saw the pictures on the bus on social media this morning, with some interesting hand signals—I must ask them about that. It is very good to see them all here. I hope they know, as Members know, that I will continue wholeheartedly to support the efforts of the NHS and Public Health England, which I hold to account, and of all our excellent cancer charities, which work as part of team cancer to prevent cancer and reduce the number of families who have to go through what Natasha’s family is going through.

There have been so many interesting speeches. Luckily, for once I have time to touch on a number of them, if not all of them. I was very interested in the point made by Jenny Chapman about the data showing that take-up is better in the north-east than almost anywhere else. I was interested in what she had to say about the reasons behind that. The NHS as a system too infrequently talks to Members of Parliament, who know their areas better than most. I will ask Sir Mike Richards to contact her, perhaps along with the hon. Member for City of Chester, who is obviously still waiting for an introduction. I am very happy to facilitate that. Her other point was about access, which many Members mentioned. I will ensure that her very good point about disabled women is fed into Sir Mike Richards’s review, and I encourage her to raise that with him when she sees him.

[Ian Austin in the Chair]

I will come to Helen Jones, who introduced the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, because many of the points she raised will come up in my speech. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley talked about the “Be Clear on Cancer” campaign and the new Public Health England campaign that will be rolled out next month. He mentioned the role of GPs in those campaigns. “Be Clear on Cancer” is a public-facing campaign, but elements of it relate to GP education, which I will come to. He often makes very good points in our debates, and I thank him for raising that topic. Sarah Champion also mentioned GP understanding, which I will touch on.

Hannah Bardell made a very personal speech. She said she is awaiting results, and I think I speak for everyone when I say we wish her well. We will be thinking of her, and our fingers are crossed for her. She made a point about the trans community, which I had not heard mentioned in this context. NHS England has published clear guidance for trans men—people who have changed from female to male. Trans men who still have a cervix and have not had a hysterectomy remain entitled to screening. If a trans man is still registered with their GP as a female, they will continue to receive invitations for screening. If they are registered as a male, they remain eligible for screening but will not automatically be invited. The guidance makes clear that trans men need to request screening from their GP. I thank her for raising that point, which is another that I want to feed into Sir Mike’s screening review.

Emma Hardy made a brilliant speech, as always. She should be on the stage. The rather unconventional advice surgery she talked about may not catch on, but I enjoyed hearing about it. We constituency MPs all dread somebody saying, “I’m sure I know you from somewhere.” She talked about education, particularly in schools. Public Health England has a range of materials aimed at providing teenagers and their parents with information about things such as the HPV vaccination programme. She will know that the Department for Education is also working on new relationships and sex education guidance. Its consultation closed in November. That guidance, which will include input from Health Education England, will be published in the first half of this year.

I took the Teenage Cancer Trust and CoppaFeel!—a breast cancer charity with possibly the best name of any cancer charity—to see my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards at the end of last year. We were very keen to make the point to them that we must improve awareness in schools of health, bodies and particularly cancers, but in a balanced way that educates children about warning signs without frightening the life out of them. I think we have struck that balance, and I think Members will be pleased when they see that guidance rolled out in the first half of 2019.