Pancreatic Cancer

Part of Youth Inmates: Solitary Confinement – in Westminster Hall at 4:18 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:18 pm, 2nd April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Nic Dakin for the articulate and passionate way in which he made his case. He has a long history of campaigning on this issue, and long may he continue. We know that we need a conscience when it comes to driving improvements throughout the health system, and it is always instructive to hear people’s experiences. I thank the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he does in chairing the all-party parliamentary groups on cancer and on pancreatic cancer.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for sharing the stories of Ali Stunt, Maggie Watts and Erika Vincent, because we need to remember that we are not talking about some vague disease that happens to other people; it happens to real human beings and their lives are incredibly affected by our failure, or otherwise, to take action in these spheres. They also inspire us. The fact that Erika Vincent dedicated so much of her final days to raising awareness is inspirational, and we would be very poor if we did not take action following that.

I also thank Mrs Lewell-Buck for sharing her family story. Again, she illustrated that this can happen to any one of us. When we are in a position to do something about it, we must act.

No one will be surprised that tackling cancer is a major priority for the Government. We have presided over year-on-year increases in survival rates, so that today they are at the highest levels recorded. However, we should not rest on our laurels and be complacent. That is good progress, but we must do better—our ambition is to do better.

Last October, the Prime Minister announced a package of measures with the aim of detecting three quarters of all cancers at stages 1 or 2 by 2028. These measures will see improvements to our screening programmes and new investment in state of the art technology, to further improve diagnosis and boost long-term research and innovation.

That represents the cancer element of the NHS long-term plan, published in January, which sets out how we will achieve our ambition of 55,000 more people surviving cancer for five years in each year from 2028. Colleagues will be aware that the Secretary of State is placing considerable emphasis on prevention, so we need to look at what else we are doing, in terms of screening and research, to tackle these issues. All of that is to be commended, but we must not be complacent. We can learn from the examples of Belgium and the USA, where much greater advances have been made.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe reminds us all that survival rates for certain cancers remain stubbornly low, including for pancreatic cancer, which is the least survivable of all cancers and so merits special attention. As he alluded to, late diagnosis is a key reason for that. We know that less than a quarter of people have their cancer diagnosed at stage 1 or 2, compared to half of people for all other cancers.

The new early diagnosis ambition represents a huge opportunity to change that for three reasons. First, the ambition must apply to all stageable cancers, including pancreatic cancer. NHS England is working with Pancreatic Cancer UK and others on how we can adjust the current national measure of early diagnosis to include pancreatic cancer for the first time.

Secondly, within that headline measure, the Government are committed to publishing regular data on individual cancers. We need to be transparent about how we are performing in this area, so that we can identify which cancers we are tackling in terms of early diagnosis, and which need more attention. That will provide a powerful catalyst for all the charities to come together and work with NHS England to deliver that change.