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Breast Screening

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2022

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23).

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the purposes of increasing uptake of NHS Breast Screening Programme appointments, including in groups currently less likely to take up such appointments; to extend eligibility to that programme to persons at an increased risk of breast cancer because of their family history; and for connected purposes.

Last weekend saw Mothering Sunday, and for many of our constituents that meant a time to catch up with Mum and maybe have lunch, go for a walk or buy some flowers. My little ones did that for my wife. For some, however, Sunday was not a day for lunch, or a walk, or a catch-up; there were flowers, but they were dropped off at the churchyard or the crematorium, as they are every year, and that group included me, as it has for the past 19 years. I was in my late 20s, away on my stag do in Wales, when I got a phone call very early in the morning to say I needed to get home. My mother was in hospital at that point, with only one possible outcome. She passed away a few days later, five weeks before Susie and I got married. She was just 52 years old.

People say that events and our life before we enter this place shape how we approach some of our time here, and they are right. Colleagues here and constituents in Winchester and Chandler’s Ford know that breast cancer is an issue I am passionate about, and now they know why. For my first five years as an MP, I co-chaired the all-party group on breast cancer; then, in 2017, it was the privilege of my life to serve as the Cancer Minister. We said then, as we do now, that for cancer early diagnosis can be game-changing—cancer’s “magic key”, as it is often put.

Breast cancer is incredibly treatable if it is detected early: 98% of women who have the disease detected at stage 1 survive for at least five years after their diagnosis, and many go on to lead full lives. It is true that we have made huge progress on tackling cancer—indeed, survival rates have been increasing year on year for the past decade or more and have doubled in the last 40 years in the UK, thanks in large part to more cases being caught early. Our NHS breast screening programme is estimated to prevent 1,300 breast cancer deaths every year across the UK—but we need to go further. That is even more true today than it was pre-pandemic, given that, according to figures on NHS England’s latest cancer waiting times, there are nearly 9,000 women in England living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to the impact of covid. The pandemic has, to put it mildly, not helped our efforts to detect breast cancer earlier through screening.

I want to put on the record my thanks to the staff at Hampshire Hospitals and in breast screening centres across the UK. They have worked and continue to work tirelessly to pool and expand capacity so that catch-up appointments can be offered to women who were not screened while the programme was paused. Despite all the hard work, between April 2020 and March 2021, about 936,000 fewer women in England were screened for breast cancer compared with the previous year. Routine breast screening appointments were suspended in March 2020—a mistake we must never repeat—and restarted in the summer of that year, but we are far from fully recovered. The latest breast screening performance data for England shows that the percentage of women taking up their screening invitation within six months has reached an historic low of 62%—well below the national minimum standard of 70%. My fear is that this will be another terrible legacy of the pandemic, even after all the delayed screening invitations have been sent.

The long-term impact of the disruption will depend on how quickly screening services can fully recover, not just in offering catch-up appointments but in making sure as many women as possible accept that invite. Reducing the shortfall in the number of women screened is key to identifying the majority of “missing” breast cancer patients and ensuring that all breast cancers are diagnosed as early as possible. Although addressing the invite backlog and the drastic drop in attendance is the most immediate priority, we cannot deny that breast screening uptake was already in steady decline before the pandemic. Covid has simply accelerated the trend, with potentially tragic consequences.

I welcome the Government’s new 10-year cancer strategy and praise them for continuing to take action on early diagnosis of cancer. I urge them to view the new strategy as an opportunity to double down on that mission, and I know they do. My Bill will help the Government to sustain focus and ambition on maximising uptake in the NHS breast screening programme, both in this recovery phase and into the future. Going further, the Bill will also help to ensure that this is delivered in an equitable way, which will be instrumental in addressing the long-standing disparities seen in early cancer diagnosis.

Research shows that in the UK, women from ethnic minority backgrounds and those living in areas of high deprivation are less likely to attend routine breast screening. Those groups are also at greater risk of being diagnosed with later stage breast cancer and have worse survival rates. It is essential that efforts to recover the screening programme do not inadvertently undermine the Government’s commitments on early diagnosis, especially their ambition to shrink the inequalities gap. That is why some of the measures taken to try to improve the screening programme’s efficiency during recovery, most notably the switch to an open invitation model, have raised so many concerns.

Research indicates that when people are asked to call and arrange their own screening appointment, uptake is lower than when they are provided with a timed appointment. Without sufficient funding, staff and community engagement, permanently switching to an open invite model risks further deterioration in uptake and fewer breast cancers being detected early. It is vital that the impact of open invitations on uptake of breast screening is fully assessed before any long-term decisions are made. The Bill will help to ensure that data relating to equalities is collected and used to assess fully the impact different invitation models and interventions have on uptake and its variation across different groups. I am grateful for the work the Department of Health and Social Care is doing to prepare a White Paper on health disparities, and I look forward to working across the House to tackle those inequalities. The Bill I propose is just one way to get that work started.

It is vital that, as we recover the NHS breast screening programme, we do not miss the opportunity to look into the future and prepare for some of the much-needed changes that are likely to occur. I commend the Government for exploring, with their 10-year cancer plan, a call to evidence on the increased testing of family members of cancer patients to determine whether they are at increased risk of cancer, which could have implications for the screening programme. Right now, women at very high risk of breast cancer because of their family history receive more frequent screening through the national screening programme. Women at high or moderate risk should receive this through locally commissioned screening services, but research suggests that the locally commissioned services are not fully implemented in many regions, as they are not mandatory and are subject to financial constraints. This is a missed opportunity to diagnose breast cancer in at-risk women at the earliest stage.

Professor Sir Mike Richards’ 2019 review of screening services, which I and my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) commissioned in office, recommended the establishment of a new single screening advisory body to make recommendations on both population and targeted screening, commissioned through similarly nationally agreed standards and service specifications. The Government recently announced that the UK National Screening Committee will be relaunched this spring with an expanded remit covering targeted screening, but nothing further has been announced yet about giving recommendations on targeted screening equal weight and funding, as Sir Mike suggested. The Bill would ensure that steps are taken to ensure that commissioners fully implement existing National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommendations on screening for women at moderate or high risk of breast cancer as a result of their family history.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), is an excellent Minister and she knows how important this issue is. I believe every Member of this House can agree on the importance of early, equitable diagnosis of breast cancer and the central role the NHS breast screening programme has in achieving that. We needed to up our game pre-covid, and we certainly need to up our game post covid if we want to avoid being back here in 10 years’ time having exactly the same conversation. By working across the political divide, we can get back on track to ensure and improve early diagnosis of breast cancer. It will not save Mothering Sunday for me, but it might for thousands of other people in the future.

The hon. Gentleman has made a moving speech, to which we all paid attention.

Question put and agreed to.


That Steve Brine, Craig Tracey, Munira Wilson, Julie Elliott, Tracey Crouch, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Mrs Pauline Latham, Alex Norris, Caroline Nokes, Dame Caroline Dinenage, Miriam Cates and Bambos Charalambous present the Bill.

Steve Brine accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May, and to be printed (Bill 297).

Health and Care Bill (Ways and Means)


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Health and Care Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees in connection with the licensing of cosmetic procedures by virtue of the Act.—(Rebecca Harris.)

Health and Care Bill (Programme) (No.3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Health and Care Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 14 July 2021 (Health and Care Bill (Programme)) and 22 November 2021 (Health and Care Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after their commencement.

(2) The proceedings—

(a) shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and

(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.


Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

91, 85 to 88, 92, 95, 52 to 54, 66 to 79, 82, 84, 93, 94, 96 to 101, 109 to 129

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments

29, 30, 48, 57, 89, 108, 42 to 47, 55, 56, 58 to 64

Four hours after the commencement of

those proceedings

11, 51, 80, 81, 90, 105, 1 to 10, 12 to 28, 31

to 41, 49, 50, 65, 83, 102 to 104, 106, 107

Six hours after the commencement of

those proceedings

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Rebecca Harris.)