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Cancer Survival Rates

Volume 607: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2016

Before I answer the questions, may I start by saying that I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with the people of Brussels today after the shocking events that they have witnessed? As the Prime Minister made clear this morning, we will do all we can to support them.

Cancer survival rates are at a record high. We are on track to save an estimated 12,000 more lives a year for people diagnosed between 2011 and 2015, but we know that we need to strive to be better. The independent cancer taskforce report, “Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes”, which was published last summer, recommends improvements across the cancer pathway and sets a clear ambition for further improvement of survival rates.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I associate myself with her comments about the terrorist outrage in Brussels.

As my hon. Friend may be aware, the Rosemere cancer foundation has been fundraising for a new chemotherapy unit at Burnley general hospital, which will be a huge boost for cancer patients in my area. Because of the huge generosity of Pendle residents, Rosemere has already raised £90,000 towards its target of £100,000. Will she join me in congratulating Rosemere on its efforts and encouraging residents to help it to meet its full target?

Absolutely. It is a delight to associate myself with my hon. Friend’s support for that excellent local group. The Rosemere cancer foundation supports world-class cancer treatment throughout Lancashire and south Cumbria. Around 4,000 chemotherapy treatments are delivered each year at Burnley general hospital, and the new unit will be of real benefit to local cancer patients from my hon. Friend’s constituency—for which, as he knows, I have great affection—and from the surrounding area.

Is there anything further that my hon. Friend can do to incentivise NHS trusts to replace linear accelerators that are more than 10 years old, and thereby allow more patients to access cutting-edge radiotherapy techniques?

This, of course, is one of the areas covered by the cancer taskforce, and it is a very important matter. Cally Palmer, the NHS national cancer director and chief executive of the Royal Marsden, is leading on taskforce implementation. The replacement of LINACs is being taken into consideration in planning improvements across the pathway. That can only be done because we are putting into the NHS and into cancer treatment the money that we need to achieve those world-class outcomes.

Each year, 38,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer, but very few people are familiar with the term blood cancer. Patients have expressed concern about the fact that a lack of awareness has a significant impact on them throughout their patient journey, from causing confusion and uncertainty at diagnosis to making them unaware of the organisations that provide the support and care that they need. Will the Minister tell us what more the Government can do to tackle that lack of awareness in order to improve outcomes and survival rates for all patients affected by the 137 types of blood cancer?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the challenge of joining up thinking across the cancer pathway. That is exactly the approach that Cally Palmer and the taskforce implementation team are looking at. I recently had a conversation with her and with NHS England representatives in which we talked about how we get that joined-up approach. That is at the heart of the taskforce’s recommendations, and we will be taking it forward for all the reasons that the hon. Lady has eloquently expressed.

Cancer Research UK has said that cancer waiting targets have been missed so many times that failure has become the norm. Does the Minister agree that failure to tackle that is undoing the good work of the last 15 years on survival rates?

These days, we are dealing with the fact that a hugely greater number of people are being diagnosed. The increase in the number of people being referred by GPs is extraordinary. For example, last year GPs referred nearly half a million more patients to see a cancer specialist. That is an increase of 51%. When it comes to waiting lists, of course we want to make sure that everyone is seen. The Government have committed more money to diagnostics, for example, but we expect the NHS to look urgently at any local dips in performance and to take action to make sure that all patients get access to treatment as quickly as possible.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Government announcement of funding for a new radiotherapy machine in Eastbourne district general hospital, which will improve cancer survival rates for patients from Seaford, Alfriston, Polegate and East Dean in my constituency?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend again highlights where we are investing, upgrading machines and putting in money, effort, people and resources to make sure that we can achieve world-class cancer outcomes. As I say, we are on course for record outcomes in terms of patients surviving 10 years beyond a diagnosis. However, we always want to do better, so I applaud the local efforts that she has highlighted.

I would like to reiterate what the Minister said. As I sure my hon. Friends would agree, our thoughts go out to everybody in Brussels at this time.

Will the Minister please inform the House of what consideration has been given to bringing the bowel cancer screening age into line with that in Scotland—at 50 rather than 60—following the recent Westminster Hall debate on this subject?

We had an excellent debate. An extraordinary number of colleagues turned up in Westminster Hall, a debate of just half an hour, demonstrating how many people are interested in this important subject. I outlined in my response to the debate the fact that we have the bowel scope screening programme and the bowel cancer programme in England, which complement each other. The result, particularly of bowel scope screening, is that we can actually make a huge impact on mortality rates for people who are caught. I went into that in more detail in my response to the debate, but that is the key to making sure we identify more people and stop them dying from this dreadful disease.