Childhood Cancers: Research — [David Mundell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:01 pm on 7th December 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work, Pensions and Inclusion), SNP Deputy Leader 5:01 pm, 7th December 2020

Thank you, Mr Mundell. In July, I was fortunate enough to secure a question at Prime Minister’s Question Time. As Members across the Chamber will know, that is when we try to think of the best political hit we can get, but on that day there was only one question I was going to ask. It was about a young man, Daniel Caplan, a constituent of mine who had just turned 17 and had been diagnosed with diffuse midline glioma—a brain stem tumour. As I explained to the Prime Minister, it was a terminal diagnosis and, of course, an absolutely crushing one for Daniel and his family. As Tonia Antoniazzi said, I am so sorry to say that Daniel died last week.

I did not know Daniel, but I was really struck that one of his friends, Martin, who spoke to me earlier this year about something else entirely, made sure to tell me what a great person his friend Daniel was. It is crystal clear what a special and very much loved young man he was. If I, who did not know this lovely young man, am so devastated to hear of his loss, I cannot begin to imagine how Daniel’s family can cope with it, just at the time when, if things were different, he would be looking to make his way in the world and realise all of his potential. I have been thinking about them a great deal.

For families like Daniel’s, and all those we are hearing about who have received the devastating news of a childhood cancer diagnosis, among all that awful news is the terrible realisation—one they probably never had cause to be aware of before—that there have been no new treatments for these conditions for 40 years. There has been no progress in treating childhood brain stem tumours. That is stark and shocking. It is absolutely right and necessary that we heed the call of all those families faced with that terrible news when they ask for a renewed focus on research and for a light to be shone on awareness of childhood brain stem cancers so that others do not have to face what they have gone through. I was glad that the Prime Minister agreed with me when I asked for his commitment to shine that light and to bring focus to this issue.

The Scottish Government have also done a great deal of work to improve cancer treatment in Scotland over the last decade. All these things matter, but we need a commitment from all of us not to let it lie for these young people, because although cancer is rarer in children and young people than in adults, it is often more complex and more difficult to treat.

Earlier this year, working with the Brain Tumour Charity —an organisation close to my heart—and with other Members, I tabled an early-day motion to raise awareness of DIPG. That continued focus has to be our priority, because only 10% of children with DIPG survive for more than two years following their diagnosis and research into brain tumours represents less than 3% of the UK’s cancer research budget. Those statistics should stop us all in our tracks, because in the midst of all the medical advances of recent years, affected families find that crushing and inexplicable.

All of us in the Chamber need to ensure that this area is a priority. We need to have more research and to think of it as we go forward. For Daniel Caplan and all the other children like him, and all their families, a cure really cannot wait.