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Cancer Survival

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2015

5. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the most recent rates of cancer survival. (907646)

6. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the most recent rates of cancer survival. (907647)

13. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the most recent rates of cancer survival. (907656)

This Government inherited the worst cancer survival rates in western Europe and, as we have just heard, we have invested a record £450 million in improving early diagnosis, which means that record numbers of people are being tested and record numbers of people are being treated.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Last year, I met cancer patients and carers with the aim of looking at how we can improve cancer survival rates so that they are among the best in western Europe. The main observation was that early diagnosis is key. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely crucial that we support GPs to find and identify the early signs and symptoms of cancer so that we can improve survival rates?

That is absolutely right. What is said by everyone who has been wrestling with this problem about why our survival rates are not as good as we want them to be is that early diagnosis and access to the latest drugs are the two critical things. My hon. Friend will be pleased that 9,000 people in his region have accessed the cancer drugs fund and that, in his constituency, 300 more people every year are now being treated for cancer than was the case four years ago.

The excellent progress made in cancer survival rates is great news across the UK and in my constituency in Fylde. A lot of that is down to the increase in availability of diagnostic tests. Statistics from Blackpool’s NHS trust show that just under 33,000 more diagnostic tests were carried out in 2014 compared with 2010. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend commit to increasing the availability of diagnostic tests?

We absolutely can. In fact, we are carrying out about half a million more diagnostic tests for cancer every year than we were four years ago. The result is that, over the course of this Parliament, 700,000 more people are being admitted for cancer treatment in our hospitals than was the case in the previous Parliament, saving 12,000 lives every year.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s answers. Improvements in radiotherapy have been a key factor in improving cancer survival rates and quality of life for patients. This month, Worcestershire is celebrating the delivery of a state-of-the-art radiotherapy centre at Worcestershire Royal hospital. I visited that £25 million oncology centre last week. With some of the most advanced equipment in the country and eight new consultants recently recruited, does my right hon. Friend agree that the centre will be a key asset in taking forward the fight against cancer?

Absolutely. It was a fantastic development for Worcestershire Royal hospital. My hon. Friend campaigned very hard for it, and it is fantastic for his constituents. Cancer treatment is expensive, which is why we can only fund developments in cancer if we have a strong economy. That is what this Government are committed to doing for our NHS.

May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to an excellent debate we had in the Chamber on 5 February under the auspices of the all-party group on cancer? May I also draw his attention to the uncertainty surrounding the funding of the national cancer peer review group programme? That programme has recently been reviewed and the Minister had indicated that the funding would continue. Will he take the opportunity to give a commitment to funding that peer review group, because there seems to be some doubt among the 17 national cancer charities that support its work.

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to furthering and improving peer review as a way of winning the battle against cancer. The NHS is committed to that programme, and it is just looking at how it can be improved. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) seems to be enjoying a very close relationship with his mobile phone. I hope that it profits both of them

On the early detection of cancer, will the Secretary of State consider putting more resources into socially deprived areas such as Halton where the incidence of cancer is higher?

We are putting more resources into Halton. In fact, we are putting more resources into the NHS across the country. We are carrying out 21,000 more diagnostic tests, including cancer tests, every year compared with four years ago, and I hope that that is something the hon. Gentleman will welcome.

The all-party group on cancer and the wider cancer community have commended the Government on introducing the one-year survival rates for cancer into the delivery dashboard from April of this year as a means of driving forward earlier diagnosis. But what can the Secretary of State tell us about the work that is being undertaken to ensure that the levers of accountability are in place to push under-performing clinical commissioning groups into raising their standards on behalf of patients?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his understanding of the importance of transparency. He will welcome the fact that we are now saving 1,000 more lives a month as a result of focusing on the five-year survival rates. But that transparency must apply to CCGs as well, and discussions are ongoing with NHS England as to the best way to do that for lots of things, including cancer.

Last week, we learned that the 62-day target for cancer treatment has been missed for a full 12 months:

“This isn’t just about missed targets–consecutive breaches mean thousands of patients are being failed. These targets exist to ensure swift diagnosis of cancer and access to treatment, which is vital if we’re serious about having the best survival rates in the world.”

Those are not my words; they are an exact quote from Cancer Research UK. Which bit of it does the Secretary of State disagree with?

I do not disagree with it, but I will tell the hon. Lady why we are missing that one target. Incidentally, we are hitting the seven other targets. We are treating and diagnosing so many more people, with 560,000 more diagnoses every year. That means that in this Parliament we are treating 700,000 more people than were treated in Labour’s last Parliament, saving 1,000 more lives a month. If the hon. Lady looks at some of the other things that Cancer Research UK says, she will see that it welcomes that strongly.