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Cancer Fund Distribution

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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What plans he has to continue the exceptional tracking exercise carried out recently for cancer fund distribution. [122418]

This was an exceptional tracking exercise. The NHS is receiving £12.7 billion extra from 2003–04 to 2005–06. It is for primary care trusts in partnership with strategic health authorities and other local stakeholders to determine how best to use their funds to meet national priorities, including cancer targets.

I thank the Under-Secretary for her reply. I welcome the openness and transparency represented by that exercise to find where the cancer money went. Will we ensure in future that all the money—not only 60 per cent., which some authorities spend—will be spent on cancer, as should happen?

I know that my hon. Friend is aware that, apart from some central funding, the money is principally routed through the primary care trusts. The research and the report that the national cancer director published on 22 May show that, after some initial problems, there has been additional major spending on new cancer drugs and significant investment in other important aspects, such as expanding the cancer work force and extending services such as radiotherapy and screening. There is clear evidence that the money is getting through and making a difference, but it is up to local decision making.

Is it not a fact that many cancer patients need nutritional supplements? Given that the Lords rejected the food supplements regulations last night and that 300 nutrients are about to be taken off the shelves, does that not mean that the Government have failed to bat for Britain in Europe? The Minister claims that in the light of the so-called dossier, those nutrients can go back on the market, but is it not true that only 15 supplements have been put forward for that dossier, and that 280 odd will therefore not be put forward? What does the Minister have to say about that?

I am not entirely clear as to the direct relevance of those questions, but as you are allowing them, Mr. Speaker, I shall do my best to respond. The point is that we have negotiated the best possible deal with other European member states, and we have a long lead-in for some of the changes. Many issues have yet to be decided, and I think that we all agree that the only reason to ban any supplements is, effectively, that they are unsafe—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, that is the Government's ground for taking action, and on the basis of evidence. I trust that we can work with the industry to secure the best possible outcome for UK consumers. That is our main objective, and I believe that our best interests are served by working together.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the tracking exercise has been incredibly useful. I have seen its effect on my network, allowing those concerned and me, as a Member of Parliament, to understand where the money is going. Visiting the United States also made clear just how well we are doing in terms of cancer treatment. Does she agree that this exercise is one way in which central Government can keep an eye on the money spent and ensure that local teams are spending it where they should? It also allows Members of Parliament to have confidence in the process.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it has been a useful exercise. Some differences in experience have clearly been encountered throughout the country, in terms of the money going to where we hoped it would go. But I hope that she and other Members will understand that it is quite difficult permanently to track in detail the money going into cancer services. Much of the money may go to specialisms, in which case only some of the money relates to cancer treatment. Given the ongoing bureaucracy, form filling and returns required to get a detailed picture, such a process is not sensible. However, we have overall targets and we are doing well on all of them, which is evidence that the money is getting to where it needs to be. I trust that Members will continue to take a lively interest in this issue.

Does the Minister accept that, ultimately, all cancer services in the community and in hospital outstations are underpinned by the regional cancer centres? When will the Government publish the independent review panel report on the future of acute health services in east Kent and, in particular, of the joint cancer centre at the Kent and Canterbury hospital? In practice, will we see a vital and excellent cancer centre eroded and ultimately closed by stealth?

We are looking at all of these issues carefully in the light of the panel's recommendations, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the report will be published shortly. He will have to wait to see what is in it, but the Government are of course totally committed to having a very high standard of care in excellent centres throughout the country. I am sure that he will join me in working towards that objective.