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Cancer Surgeons

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

I thank the hon. Lady for her question—to which the answer is that we recognise the crucial importance of high-quality surgery in improving outcomes for cancer patients. Since 2003, cancer-related surgical training programmes have been developed when new technologies and procedures have proved that patients would benefit from their introduction. Through the national cancer action team we are supporting training in laparoscopic surgical procedures for colorectal cancer, and we will be introducing surgical training for lower rectal cancer.

As procedures for cancer surgery, including robotic surgery, are getting more and more complex, does my hon. Friend feel that there is a case for an earlier selection of specialism for surgeons, to ensure that the NHS maintains its reputation for clinical expertise and to influence positively cancer survival rates in the United Kingdom?

As I said in my original answer, we recognise the crucial importance of high-quality surgery. The hon. Lady has made the important point that we must equip our surgeons with the right skills to carry out highly complex and specialist procedures. That means that we must deliver specialised training for that purpose to our existing work force.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the 18% fall in the breast cancer rate between 1998 and 2008 was due not only to the expertise of cancer surgeons but to the target culture to which he is so opposed? What would he say to the 3,500 women who, because of those targets, did not die in 2008?

I imagine that that would be an answer the previous Government should be giving, and they should be sorry. [Hon. Members: “What?”] The reality is that this Government are clear that we are sticking with the targets in relation to cancer, but we are also clear that we need to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, and ensure that people present themselves at an earlier stage and get access to the appropriate diagnosis, so that they get the right treatment.