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Cancer Services

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2020

What steps he is taking to tackle regional variations in the restoration of cancer services after the covid-19 outbreak. (903679)

What steps his Department is taking to enable the resumption of cancer treatments delayed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (903723)

Essential and urgent cancer treatment has continued throughout the pandemic and cancer specialists, as always, are discussing the best treatment options with their patients. We are working to ensure that referrals, diagnostics and cancer treatment are back at pre-pandemic levels across the whole of England as soon as possible. Due to covid-19, the 21 cancer alliances in England have established hubs to ensure dedicated cancer care away from hospitals dealing with the virus. From the end of April, local systems and cancer alliances have continued to identify ring-fenced diagnostic and surgical capacity for cancer in line with issued guidance. Regional cancer senior responsible officers must now provide assurance that these arrangements are in place to help minimal regional variation.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, but she knows that people living with cancer are experiencing cancellation and delays to treatment all over the country, and that is causing anxiety and distress to many families. In getting people urgently back into treatment, will she look at the 12-point plan for restoration, recovery and transformation of cancer services outlined by Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK and 23 other cancer charities, to ensure that cancer does not become the forgotten C during the coronavirus crisis?

I regularly engage with cancer charities and would be delighted to look at them to see where we are making good headway and where, perhaps, we could have discussions about other things that need to be targeted. While I have the hon. Gentleman on the screen, I would also like to highlight the fact that the Greater Manchester cancer alliance has led the way in its response to this pandemic. It was one of the first to establish a surgical hub model to ensure that cancer surgery was able to continue and that the local cancer system as a whole responded well. The alliance has also been looking to accelerate the rapid diagnostic centre to help promote diagnostics, so I thank everyone for that.

As the Minister knows, being diagnosed with cancer is devastating, and one of the most important things to get patients through this difficult time is for them to be able to focus on their treatment. What message does the Minister have to comfort those people who are worried and stressed because they still cannot access the treatment they need because of covid-19?

I would say that, as soon as people notice any signs that might worry them, they should seek help. We have worked at pace to ensure that services have been resumed and are able to deliver for patients. Ensuring both early diagnosis and that patients can access the treatment that they need swiftly is our key ambition. We know that, following the guidance that has been delivered, we are achieving that throughout the system. Covid-19 has upended all our lives, and some decisions have been made to ensure the safety of patients, but we are now firmly back on track and will ensure that patients get the care they need.

Yesterday, the One Cancer Voice network of 25 charities published plans for restoring vital cancer services. I wrote to the Minister on 17 April with my own suggestion. Ideas included advanced radiotherapy, new models of chemotherapy, better cancer pathways and renewed screening and communication plans. This is not just about rebuilding what we had, but about making services better. If the Government are slow to do that, we face a cancer bubble that risks thousands of lives. Will the Minister commit to working with those charities and with me and other interested parliamentarians to form a cancer recovery plan to head off this looming crisis?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, just as we have seen from working closely on the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill that is going through Parliament, there are lessons to be learned. There have been improvements in certain areas of radiotherapy in which it has been determined that fewer treatments actually mean a quicker and—I would not use the word “gentler”—an easier path for the patient. I would be happy to continue working both with him and with the cancer charities to ensure that we can improve that pathway for patients.