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Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

Late detection of cancer is one of several reasons why our cancer survival rates are below the European average. That is why we will focus on improving those outcomes and achieving better awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer. These aims will be part of our future cancer strategy.

Over half the men who receive a testing kit under the national bowel cancer screening programme throw it away. What action is the Secretary of State taking to improve the take-up of screening, particularly by men, and what provision has he made within the NHS budget for the extra costs of increased take-up?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, and I have had the privilege of twice visiting the national bowel cancer screening programme at St Cross hospital in Rugby—it looks after people in parts of the midlands and the north-west—and indeed, I have visited the Preston royal infirmary, which deals with bowel cancer screening follow-up. As I said in my first reply, one of the things we aim to do is to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer. It is unfortunate that, as a recent study established, only 30% of the public had real awareness of what the symptoms of cancer would be, beyond a lump or a swelling. We have very high rates of bowel cancer, so it will be part of our future cancer strategy to increase awareness of those symptoms and to encourage men in particular to follow up on them.

The recent inquiry of the all-party parliamentary cancer group into cancer and equalities heard expert evidence to suggest that if people can survive the first year of cancer, their chances of surviving for five years are almost identical to the chances in the rest of Europe. Does the Secretary of State therefore believe that a one-year survival indicator is a good idea both for encouraging early diagnosis and for matching the survival rates of the best in Europe?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. When we set out proposals for an outcomes framework, I hope that he and others will respond, because that is one of the ways in which we can best identify how late detection of cancer is leading to very poor levels of survival to one year. I hope that we can think about that as one of the quality indicators that we shall establish.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position and wish him well in his role. I understand that he is keeping the two-week target for seeing a cancer specialist, but abandoning the work that the Labour Government did on the one-week target for access to diagnostic testing. Professor Mike Richards stated in the annual cancer reform strategy that improving GP access to diagnostic tests is essential to the drive for early diagnosis of cancer. Can the Secretary of State spell out some of his current thinking on what the alternative would be if we no longer have the one-week target?

Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady and the House that only 40% of those diagnosed with cancer had actually gone through the two-week wait. Establishing a better awareness of symptoms and earlier presentation across the board is, as we have been discussing, important to achieve. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is wrong: I have not said that we are abandoning any of the cancer waiting-time targets at the moment, but that we have to be clear about what generally constitutes quality. For example, seeing a cancer specialist without having had prior diagnosis is often pointless, whereas getting early diagnosis is often a serious indicator of quality.