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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:16 pm, 7th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, and to follow many moving and powerful speeches.

I congratulate the petitioners, because securing a Westminster Hall debate through the petition route is no small achievement. We have heard many of their stories this afternoon, and I suspect that much of the campaigning activity has been driven by families whose children have died as a result of DIPG or are suffering from DIPG. When we think about the number of families who have gone through that—it is a very rare childhood cancer—it is inspiring to see the time and effort that they put into campaigning, in some cases long after their children have passed, because they are determined that no other family should go through what they have been through or the ordeal that they have suffered.

My constituent Kaleigh Lau died of DIPG. Her family, including her father Scott, her mother Yang and her brother Carson, are just as committed to making sure that we find a cure for DIPG. I have been thinking about how the families will feel watching the debate. More than anything else, unfortunately—with great respect to the hon. Members who have spoken and the way in which they have told powerful stories—too many of them will have a sense of déjà vu.

With great respect to the Minister, who is a good person and absolutely committed to what she does, those families are not looking for warm words, reassurance or sympathy. They want action. They want to know what the Government are doing. They want to be able to hold the Government to account for progress against that action. They want real commitments. So far, although we have undoubtedly had steps in the right direction from successive Ministers, progress has been insufficient. Certainly, that is how Kaleigh’s family feel and how I feel as their constituency MP, having raised the issue on a number of occasions in recent years.

We know from Cancer Research UK of some of the challenges of researching children’s cancers. There are too few researchers, too little discovery research, not enough industry support, poor awareness of particular cancers, fragmented expertise and a lack of research tools. That is absolutely true in the case of DIPG, which is incredibly rare, as we have already heard.

What could we reasonably ask of the Minister? What would we like her to say, if not this afternoon, then in the not-too-distant future? We want to ensure that the UK seeks to be a world leader in researching DIPG and in the efforts to find a cure. We want to ensure that the UK seeks to be a world leader in researching DIPG and in the efforts to find a cure. I was particularly struck by the experiences of Steve Brine, who speaks with great authority and experience, having done the job and understanding the pressures on his successor. I think that the sort of action that he outlined would give families some reassurance that serious actions are being taken, but also that that is transparent and we can measure and monitor progress as personalities come and go—and hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, Governments too. In all seriousness, I think that the strength of cross-party consensus on this issue is obvious, and the Minister will get a great deal of support from those on the Opposition Benches if she is able to come forward with that kind of action plan. That is really what the families are looking for today.