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Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

Cancer survival rates are, thankfully, at a record high. Last year, the NHS carried out 53 million diagnostic tests, which is 53% higher than the number carried out in 2010, but we need to do more. Our aim is to diagnose three quarters of all cancers early, so that 55,000 more people each year survive cancer for another five years. To achieve that, we are radically overhauling screening programmes to improve access and uptake, investing £200 million in diagnostic equipment and accelerating the adoption of the most innovative cancer treatments.

Bowel cancer claims 16,000 lives a year, which is 45 every day, yet just 55% of people in Dudley take up bowel cancer screening. What are the Government doing to ensure that more people take up this life-saving cancer screening?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he does to make sure people are aware of cancer screening and taking it up. Diagnosing bowel cancer early is vital if we are to beat this disease. We have committed to lowering the age of bowel cancer screening from 60 to 50 and we rolled out the fit bowel screening test in June. It is easier to use and is expected to improve uptake by 70% in towns like Dudley. Sir Mike Richards’ screening review sets out important recommendations, using prioritisation of evidence-based incentives. We will set out our plan for implementing it next year, so that people can access screening more accessibly—in car parks or wherever else it suits their lifestyle—and we can save more lives.

Access to screening is a function of people’s poverty. For example, in Newcastle, cervical screening rates vary from 85% to 23%. A Macmillan Cancer Support report said clearly that we need to have access to screening in the places where people are, particularly for those who are running two jobs and so on. What is the Minister specifically doing to make screening available where people are?

I agree with the hon. Lady on this. The Richards review and working through the recommendations will enable us to put more screening in places where people can access it. The Eve Appeal, specifically directed at cervical cancer, is looking to put screening in workplaces and so on, but anybody who is worried must get tested.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right in his intent to put the one-year cancer survival metric at the very heart of the cancer strategy, to encourage earlier diagnosis, which the all-party parliamentary group on cancer has long campaigned for. Will the Government ensure that adequate funding is attached to the metric, so that we can finally start closing the gap on international survival rates?

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work leading the all-party parliamentary group on cancer. We are putting more money into diagnostic tests, which means that there will be more than 7.9 million more tests. Making sure that we have the correct data on survivability, in which the one-year test is an important metric, is part of that programme.

In the past year, more than 34,000 cancer patients have waited beyond two months for treatment. Every single waiting time measure for cancer has worsened in the past year. Surely, the Minister should be ashamed that so many more cancer patients are waiting longer for treatment.

I probably know as well as most that waiting for a cancer diagnosis is traumatic and that it needs to be done as speedily as possible. There is nothing more frightening than that wait, so what have we done? In 2018, 2.2 million people were seen by a specialist for suspected cancer—that is more than 1.2 million more people per annum since 2010. Getting to the specialist an individual needs as quickly as possible is what this Government are focused on, and that is why we have put so much emphasis on having specialist clinical nurses in the cancer workforce. We will carry on making cancer a priority.

But the problem is that that is not happening, is it? Cancer patients are waiting longer for treatment. In recent weeks, we have had an avalanche of hospital board papers blaming understaffing and George Osborne’s pension tax changes for the deterioration in waiting time standards. The Prime Minister promised to fix Osborne’s pension tax mess. How many more patients need to be added to the waiting list before it is fixed?

The guidance for doctors’ pensions was changed last month. As I said, making sure that everybody can access a GP as soon as they are worried and then get to a specialist as soon as possible is our top priority, and making sure we have a broad-based cancer workforce is part of that plan. Delivering these things, as well as rapid diagnostic centres with £200 million in new machinery, is how we are going to do it.