[Relevant document: e-petition 560539, Increase investment in Pancreatic Cancer research.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered pancreatic cancer awareness month.
It is good to see everyone here. I thank Members for attending and look forward to their contributions, especially those from the shadow Ministers. In particular, I look forward to the contribution from the Minister, who is back in post again. I wish her well and look forward to her summing up of the debate.
It is a pleasure to speak on the subject and I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pancreatic cancer. I am pleased that my application to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate was successful, and I have a number of asks. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), who is sitting to my right. She was chair of the APPG, and when her health was not the best, she asked me whether I would take it over. That seemed to be the unanimous opinion of the members of the group, so I was pleased to do so.
I owe the hon. Lady a special thanks. She is the lady, as she always is, who presented the issue and pushed it, and I just follow in her footsteps. That is a fact. I am pleased to see her getting back to health and strength, and look forward to her contribution, which I am sure will be factual and helpful to the debate.
With pancreatic cancer, silence is deadly. That is where we are—very much conscious of pancreatic cancer and what it does. It is a disease that gets too little attention and too little funding. That is one of my asks of the Minister, and I prepare her for it in advance. Later, I will refer to some stats and figures, which will reinforce the issue. Thousands of people die of pancreatic cancer every year, so it is critical that we secure early diagnosis and ensure that the funding for research is there. Ultimately, we must raise awareness of the disease—for example, through today’s debate.
Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer of all, which underlines the importance of the debate, and the stats surrounding it are truly shocking: 10,000 people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are diagnosed with the disease every year, and half the people diagnosed die within three months of their diagnosis. That is alarming, and I want to present some evidence about how the disease affects people, particularly those in my constituency.
Sadly, only 7% of those who are diagnosed survive five years, and even fewer survive longer than that. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in Northern Ireland is one of the worst in the world at 4.9%, and it puts us 32nd out of 36 countries in the survival charts. That tells us all about where we are. The Minister is not responsible for health in Northern Ireland because health is a devolved matter, but I want to use the debate to highlight the issue and to show where we can push for the improvements that we would like to see and wish we could have. Back home, I have been pushing the Minister of Health on that for a long time, and I want us to have such a strategy on the UK mainland in the hope that we can do the same in turn in Northern Ireland.
When I am in my constituency office, my heart sinks when people come in for help with their personal independence payment form and inform me that their illness is pancreatic cancer. I feel my stomach sinking and my heart dropping, and I take a deep breath, because I know that I am looking across the counter at someone—man or woman—who, unfortunately, has limited time left in this world. Much more often than not, pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. My office helps people with benefits, PIP forms and universal credit, which eases them through the financial issues. There is a health burden, but the other burden is finance—when someone can no longer earn the money that they need to pay the bills and get through.
November is many things, but we are here because it is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. All around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, people have been lighting up their homes and local landmarks purple, holding fundraising events for charities such as Pancreatic Cancer UK, and having conversations. It is so important to have conversations to raise awareness of the deadliest common cancer of all.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the work that he is doing in the all-party parliamentary group. He is highlighting the importance of November being Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Does he agree that early detection is key? Unfortunately, at the moment pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. Awareness is critical in assisting people, moving toward early detection and trying to get those figures down.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I will give an example and mention a lady’s name; I have her permission to do so. I am pretty sure that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire knows this lady, and others may also know her story, which illustrates where early detection and diagnosis can make all the difference. We need to focus on the three symptoms to look out for, which can lead to the early detection and diagnosis that are so important.
Pancreatic cancer is a brutal illness, and there is no better way of understanding how brutal it is than by hearing how it impacts an individual and their family. To that end, I will take the opportunity to share the story of Rebecca Buggs, who is the face of the Pancreatic Cancer UK campaign this Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. She is a nurse, who looked after pancreatic cancer patients and was well aware of the symptoms. Ultimately, her awareness of those symptoms saved her life.
The Pancreatic Cancer UK campaign is called “No Time to Wait”, and there is no time to wait. There must be an instantaneous response to symptoms—my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) mentioned the importance of that—because for patients with pancreatic cancer, delay means disaster. Rebecca, who is 43, knows that all too well. She has been a nurse for 21 years, and over the course of her career she has prepared many patients for the Whipple procedure—the only operation that provides a possible cure for pancreatic cancer. When Members hear her story, they will understand the importance of that.
On Christmas day last year, almost 11 months ago, Rebecca began to feel very unwell. She believed it was just a covid-19 infection, as many do; if someone is not well, they think it must be covid, because covid has been prevalent for the last two and a half years. Three days later, her husband noticed that she was jaundiced and said, “Becki, you look like a Minion”—not because that is a derogatory term, but because Minions all have yellow faces. After contacting the on-call registrar, whom she fortunately knew because of her role as a nurse, she was told to head straight to her hospital for blood tests and scans.
On 4 January this year, 10 days after her symptoms began, Rebecca was told the devastating news that she had pancreatic cancer. Luckily, her cancer was caught early enough for her to have the Whipple procedure, for which she had prepared many patients over all those years in her job. For most patients, it is far too late; only 10% of people are able to access that surgery. One of the things I will ask the Minister about is access to surgery; I know that she will have an answer to our queries, as she always does.
In the campaign, Rebecca talks incredibly powerfully about how this time was for her and her family. It is not just about the impact on the person who has the disease; it is about the impact, in this case, on her husband, her children, her mum and dad, and everyone else. She talks about how scary it was to be the one on the operating table after preparing so many for the procedure herself, highlighting the experience of so many with this devastating cancer. She said:
“These were the hardest 11 days of my life. I was away from my children, Jacob who’s 9 and Georgia who’s 8, and they couldn’t come and visit me because of COVID.”
It is vital that we drive improvements so that more people like Rebecca can get access to life-saving treatment for this cancer. That is why Pancreatic Cancer UK’s “No Time to Wait” campaign is vital. We need to ensure that people can get a diagnosis and treatment or surgery—whichever is the case—as soon as possible in order to give them the best chance of survival. I share Rebecca’s concern that so many people are struggling to get GP appointments or referrals for the right tests when they have concerning symptoms such as stomach ache, backache and indigestion. As Rebecca says,
“they become so ill and jaundiced that they get admitted to A&E and by then it’s too late.”
When the symptoms and the diagnosis are there and the tests are done, access to surgeons and surgery is so important.
Rebecca’s point about people with pancreatic cancer being diagnosed in A&E is particularly important. We often think in this day and age that if someone receives a cancer diagnosis, that will happen in a quiet consultation room in a hospital or perhaps in their local GP surgery, but more often than not it happens in a crowded room. More often than not—I say this with respect to doctors and GPs—it may become repetitive for GPs to tell patients that they have a diagnosis of whatever it may be, but that is a life-changing statement for the patient.
A person came to see me this week and told me that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer, albeit not pancreatic cancer. The doctor had told her very matter-of-factly that she had it, and she was absolutely devastated. What the doctor perhaps could have done was told her husband, who could then have conveyed the news to his wife in a way that would not have been such a shock.
People might expect that the doctor will give them their diagnosis and follow that up with a clear treatment plan for how they will treat and beat their cancer. In 2022, we expect that there will be a clear path to a cure and a good chance that, eventually, the person will be given the all-clear. But with pancreatic cancer, that just is not the case. More than 60% of patients with pancreatic cancer get diagnosed only in an emergency setting. I think that if anything at all indicates pancreatic cancer, the doctors and those who are aware of it need to prioritise it immediately, because speed is of the essence. Some 70% of people do not receive any active treatment at all, because they are too unwell by the time they are diagnosed; it is almost too late for them. Let that sink in. Imagine receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and then immediately being told, “By the way, there is no possible treatment plan or cure.” That is devastating.
We have to improve; we have to make the situation better. We have to try to respond in such a way that we add comfort, compassion and understanding—and, more importantly, the opportunity for surgery. It bears repeating that more than half of people who receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis will die within three months. Wow—that is another blinder of a statement. It really underlines the seriousness of the matter. For people with pancreatic cancer, there really is no time to wait.
What is the reason behind my saying all this? Primarily, it is that people with pancreatic cancer are being diagnosed far too late. We are all familiar with the fact that the earlier someone is diagnosed, the better their chances of survival. But some things are needed before people can get that crucial early diagnosis. I will outline some of them, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a way that is helpful.
First, we all need to spread awareness of the symptoms of this cancer, which are stomach and back pain, indigestion, unexplained weight loss, and jaundice. The colour caused by jaundice would obviously be noticeable right away, but all the other things are more difficult. Someone might have a bit of backache and a bit of indigestion now and again. People should always look out for any weight loss, and sometimes even weight gain. Of course, it is striking how common the symptoms on that list are. We would not naturally associate them with pancreatic cancer, but it is vital that people get checks if they experience those symptoms with no explanation. It might not be just backache or a bit of indigestion; it might be more.
Secondly and simply, there needs to be a test. It is all well and good going to the GP with these types of symptoms, but we also need to equip GPs with the tools that they need to start ruling things out. Will the Minister tell us how we can help our GPs to have all the equipment in place to make early diagnoses, and to refer people for the right test as soon as possible if they have even a minute suspicion that a person might be facing pancreatic cancer? Currently, there is no such test, but research is ongoing to try to create one, which could make a huge difference by allowing people to be diagnosed at an early stage.
We often speak about research and development. I probably mention it in every health debate—not to be repetitive, but because it is a real issue. Research and development is so important to find a cure and a way to help patients. Will the Minister tell us what can be done to increase research and development in this area? I will give a shocking figure that underlines the importance of research, which is the third key to unlocking earlier diagnosis. Currently, pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death, but it receives just 1.4% of cancer research funding in the UK. Without sustained investment in innovative research, we will not be able to improve survival rates at the pace that we must.
To date, Pancreatic Cancer UK has invested over £10 million in pancreatic cancer research, including research that aims to develop a simple test for the cancer, but it is a charity, so its funds are limited. Will the Minister tell us what can be done to help pancreatic cancer research and development? It is sometimes easy to say this, but I genuinely believe in my heart that the Government have to step in and help, because pancreatic cancer is so brutal and singular, and it ends life very quickly. Can we please have some direction on what can be done to help?
To achieve major breakthroughs, we need the research and development upgraded. We need extra money spent, well above the 1.4% of cancer research funding that pancreatic cancer receives at the moment. I say with respect that if Pancreatic Cancer UK can raise some £10 million, which is quite a bit for a small charity, the Government need to match that and do a wee bit better. Despite everything we have heard today, we need the charity’s ambition and spend to be matched by the Government and other national research funders.
In addition to driving crucial research breakthroughs, the Government must ensure that they take action to improve outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer. I know that lots of cancers are deadly, but pancreatic cancer is the deadliest. Because of that, it needs a wee bit of extra assistance. That is particularly important at the moment, as we are heading into what will be a very challenging winter for the NHS, with the pandemic, staff shortages and underfunding pushing it to breaking point. By its very nature, the press is quite negative, and it is sometimes hard to be positive about all the different news that we hear in the media, on TV and in the papers, but we need to have pancreatic cancer research and development, and response, at the centre of our cancer strategy.
Without action, there is a risk that things will get even worse for people with pancreatic cancer, as any additional delays to vital appointments, tests and treatments—the three things we need, along with an assurance on the speed of response—will have an adverse impact on people who have no time to wait. There has been inaction on pancreatic cancer for too long, but together we can change that. Indeed, I believe it is our duty to push for better for those who are faced with this deadly cancer.
We need to see urgent action, and there are things that the Government could do now to start shifting the dial. First, they must publish the 10-year cancer plan as soon as possible. Back in January, the then Health and Social Care Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), committed to publishing a 10-year cancer plan that would transform this country into a world-leading force for cancer care and treatment. Our previous Prime Minister recommitted to doing that, but we have since had silence—I say this with respect—from the new Prime Minister, who has had plenty on his plate, and the new Health and Social Care Secretary. Pancreatic cancer has been neglected by successive Governments, as have cancer plans. As a result, survival rates have not improved in decades. There has been a lack of action over time on pancreatic cancer, and we really need to ensure that work is put in place.
A funded and ambitious cancer plan would be a real step in the right direction, demonstrating our national ambition. I am proud to be British and proud to have a Government that lead. We need to lead on this, and we need to do so very quickly. That will give us something to aim for in driving up outcomes and survival, and it will help us to give people hope. That hope has not been there for years, and it needs to be there now. I say this very politely but sincerely and firmly: currently, we are a rudderless ship, and a cancer plan would give us direction and hope. The World Health Organisation advises that all nations need a cancer strategy to give this killer disease the attention it deserves. Through this debate, through our Minister and through our Government, let us become a country that can do better and does not fail to meet that standard.
To make a real difference, the cancer plan must have a specific focus on less survivable cancers, including pancreatic cancer—the ones that kill the most and kill the earliest. Unfortunately, it is possible to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and, within three months, to be no longer in this world. The plan must include investment in the workforce so that everyone can have a diagnosis and treatment plan within 21 days. That is the best practice that Pancreatic Cancer UK and clinical experts believe should be the reality everywhere. I make a special request for the Minister to address that. I say this often, but it does not lessen the issue, because it is important: I am proud of being in this Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we need to share what we have done regionally in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England in order to do things better. There may even be a necessity for a UK-wide policy and strategy.
Getting a diagnosis quickly is crucial in ensuring people can get the treatment they need as soon as possible. In addition, the cancer plan must deliver the funding needed to enable specialist cancer nurses to support everyone with pancreatic cancer as soon as possible after their diagnosis, helping them manage their symptoms and maintain a good quality of life. We must ensure that, when the family and financial pressures are gathering around someone and they sometimes feel like it is just them fighting the disease, that is not the case. We need to wrap our arms around people and tell them that they are not on their own.
I hope the Government will commit today to publishing the cancer plan. That is critical; it is at the core of the issue, and we need it. I encourage the Minister to meet Pancreatic Cancer UK and people affected by this awful disease to find out more about the “No Time to Wait” campaign and how the 10-year cancer plan can finally shift the dial. I know the answer will be yes but, for the purpose of having it in Hansard, will she commit to having that meeting, which I think will enable Pancreatic Cancer UK to press, push, emphasise and raise awareness of the matter?
There has been silence around pancreatic cancer for too long, but through this debate, together—collectively as MPs, with the Minister and regionally—we can change that attitude. We need to speak up and demand immediate change on behalf of those who have already lost their lives and the families left to grieve, those who are living with pancreatic cancer right now, and those who face a diagnosis in the coming months. We want to give them hope. We want them to know that if they get the disease, their treatment will be prioritised through A&E, their diagnosis will be quick, the response will be equally quick, and surgery will follow.
We have work to do in Northern Ireland, and I understand that—the figures I gave earlier emphasise it only too well—but we also have work to do across this great United Kingdom. I am asking for attention to be paid UK-wide in the form of a pancreatic cancer strategy, with information and guidance shared in every area of this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I am conscious that others want to contribute and I very much look forward to their contributions, including those of the shadow Ministers and, in particular, the Minister. I know that she, along with all of us, will want to do all she can to save lives. I look forward to her response, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak on this subject.
In Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month we have a duty as elected representatives in this House to deliver a message. With respect, we hope that the Minister and the Government will respond centrally, with a pancreatic cancer strategy that we can all look up to, so that when people with pancreatic cancer come to my office, as they often do, to fill in PIP forms, I can then tell them that there is some hope and show them what they need to do.
Order. The debate can last until 11 am. I am obliged to call the first of the Front Benchers no later than 10.27 am. Guideline limits are 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for His Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Jim Shannon will have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. The next 30 minutes are Back-Bench time. There are three Members seeking to speak, the first of whom is Siobhan Baillie.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate in an important awareness-raising month for pancreatic cancer. I meet hundreds of people each month as Stroud’s MP, and I am asked to take up thousands of issues and causes. Sometimes people demand that I take up causes, and my team get fed up with me, because I want to help everybody, and they say I generate work whenever I leave the house. I know that many MPs across all political parties will share the same experience.
When constituents come with very clear asks and a constructive approach, it makes it easier for us as MPs. I have found over time in my still relatively new role in the past three years that everybody who comes to talk to me about pancreatic cancer comes with that constructive approach and a clear set of asks about what they want to happen. It does not matter how personal it has been for them, or whether they have had loss or are cancer survivors themselves. Pancreatic cancer is something that people want to see changed. They are going about it the right way, by bringing matters to us, so that we can raise issues with Ministers. I thank them for that, as well as the charities, Pancreatic Cancer UK and others.
The more I have looked into the subject, the more I have understood why it needs to be addressed. Campaigners and families affected by pancreatic cancer talk about the failure in our NHS medical system. As wonderful as the NHS is, there is a failure to detect this cancer earlier. They raise the failure to get people properly to understand the symptoms of this cancer. One of my constituents says, “The clue is in the loo,” which I like as a slogan. They also raise the failure to prescribe medicine that will help people, which I will come to separately.
If there are clear asks in this area of medicine, people are confused why they are not being met. The medical healthcare system is failing our constituents at the moment on pancreatic cancer. I know that Stroud people, whom I love dearly, will die of this most deadly common cancer, if the health care system does not change.
I want to talk about one of my constituents: a young woman, my age, a mum, businesswoman, super-bright cancer survivor. She is a young woman with what was thought of as an elderly person’s cancer. For about five years, she went to her GP with fatigue, bloating and general lethargy, but a further investigation into cancer was not done. She went backwards and forwards with a list of symptoms, but it was not picked up. Her tumour was the size of a walnut and internal, so that it could not be felt. We have got used to checking our bits and bobbins, as my wonderful hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) tells us to do, but where there is an internal walnut-sized lump—not lumps on breasts or testicles—we are stuck, and people are not detecting it. If our medical system is not detecting it, we are in difficulties.
My constituent’s experience highlights the need for people and health care professionals to be alert to smaller symptoms that could be a sign of pancreatic cancer. We need to talk about poo—the clue is in the loo. We need to raise awareness of this silent cancer. If the general population is not aware of symptoms, we will miss it and will get further into difficulties with that devastating loss.
My constituent also asked me to campaign on the issue of PERT—pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy. There has been a push from cancer charities to try to get PERT prescribed more frequently, because three in four people with pancreatic cancer reported that PERT improved their quality of life. It is about 60 tablets a day and not an easy thing for people to take, but it improves their quality of life. It reduces the weight loss, the appetite loss, the abdominal pain and the bloating or wind. It reduces pale, oily and floating poo, and it reduces diarrhoea. All of that enables patients to regain some normality in their day to day lives, and it helps food to be digested and absorbed by the body. That means they gain strength to undergo potentially life-saving treatment. Given that we know about that treatment, why is it not prescribed as frequently as campaigners suggest it should be?
We understand there is a lack of awareness among healthcare professionals about what PERT can do, and that the levels of nutritional expertise among healthcare professionals are quite low, particularly in general hospitals. We know, as the hon. Member for Strangford has set out, that the stage that people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is incredibly late.
I have six key asks: to raise awareness among healthcare professionals; to place PERT at the heart of pancreatic cancer treatment improvements; a top-down prioritisation and approach that tackles the entire pathway of treatment and care; to make PERT a UK-wide priority in pancreatic cancer care; national targets for the use of PERT; and local health bodies to ensure the effective prescription of PERT.
I want to hear from the Minister today in relation to PERT and the prescription—or lack—of it. I also want to draw her attention to a study into pancreatic cancer —there is not enough time to go into it today—by Oxford University and Pancreatic Cancer Action, which was released last week. I read it last night and it is excellent. The founder and CEO, Ali Stunt, is an incredible woman. In fact, we are surrounded by incredible women campaigners, and we should pay homage to the late, great Dame Deborah James. I am sure all of us have been moved by seeing what she managed to achieve on social media. I know her family are continuing with the campaign.
All of my Stroud constituents who brought these issues to me want to see action and they want to hear from the Minister. I am really pleased we are having this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for securing it. I hope that we can all come together to reach agreement about what should happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate today, and on all the work he does in raising awareness of pancreatic cancer.
I do not need to tell anyone here how cruel an illness pancreatic cancer is. We know it from experience, whether that be personal or from hearing the tragic stories of our constituents. My parents lost one of their closest friends to the disease 20 years ago, and yet we are nowhere near as far forward in treating and, crucially, diagnosing it as we could be in 2022.
I see the purpose of today’s debate as awareness raising. Too many lives are lost to pancreatic cancer, so let us try to save some by getting people diagnosed earlier. There are numerous ways of doing that. People need to be more aware of the signs and symptoms, which I will come to shortly and which other hon. Members have outlined. GPs and other healthcare professionals need to be able to recognise the symptoms once presented, and we need incredibly speedy action if pancreatic cancer is suspected; there must be urgent access at the point of diagnosis.
That is not happening right now. Only 16% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at an early stage, and emergency presentation remains the most common route to diagnosing it. There is still too low an awareness of it across our communities: 76% of people in the UK are unable to name a single symptom of this terrible disease. Worse still, it is not easily recognised when presented to our healthcare professionals.
The story of my constituent Barbara sadly emphasises that point. She was 65 years old when she first experienced pains in her abdomen—the first symptoms of her pancreatic cancer. She had not long retired, having been a PE teacher for 40 years. She played hockey for Scotland. She was fit, active and not overweight; she ate healthily, did not smoke, drank in moderation and walked her dog every morning.
Barbara saw her GP within a week of first having pain. They prescribed an indigestion remedy and suggested paracetamol for the pain. She saw her GP at least once a month over the next year as the pain intensified and spread to her back. Her GP referred her for blood texts, X-rays, ultrasound, a colonoscopy and an endoscopy, but all tests were negative. None of the NHS practitioners who performed the tests recognised the symptoms.
After a year, the GP put in a referral for Barbara to be seen by a consultant. By that time, the pains were almost so unbearable that she was more or less confined to her house. She arranged to see a private health consultant and paid to have a scan. Within two weeks, she was told that she had a cyst in her pancreas, and further investigation three weeks later diagnosed a cancerous tumour on her pancreas, and she was told immediately that there was no cure.
Barbara received chemotherapy for six months. At first, the treatment caused the tumour to shrink a little, but it soon began to grow again. The treatment made her feel very ill. Barbara made the decision to discontinue the chemotherapy. It took almost 18 months for Barbara to have her condition diagnosed, and that happened only after a private healthcare consultation. She died two years and two months after experiencing her first symptoms. I thank her family for allowing me to share her story today to help raise this crucial awareness.
By raising awareness, we can help people get diagnosed earlier and live longer lives. For those diagnosed in time for life-saving surgery, five-year survival increases significantly. Raising awareness of an issue or illness comes in a multitude of ways. I congratulate my constituent Lesley Irving on the power of work she has done to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer since losing her mum to the illness on 6 June 2020. Lesley has got public and private buildings across Scotland to light up purple, and she assures me that this year will be the best one yet. I look forward to meeting her next week to recognise her achievements and celebrate the memory of her mum.
If anyone watching this debate is experiencing a loss of appetite, upper abdominal or mid-back pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, nausea and vomiting, they should please see their GP and explain that they think it could be pancreatic cancer. It could just save their life.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) for their contributions. I am delighted to be taking part in this debate, not just because I am the new chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, but because my borough is home to the excellent Royal Marsden Hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research and the London Cancer Hub.
Colleagues have set out the key issues very well indeed, but they are worth repeating. Out of all the common forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer remains the deadliest. More than half of all patients die within just three months, and only 7% live beyond five years. It is always difficult for an individual to go through a cancer diagnosis, but the statistics make a pancreatic cancer diagnosis particularly hard on the individual, their friends and family, so it is right that Government redouble their efforts to work with the NHS and the third sector, particularly with Pancreatic Cancer UK, in order to improve survival rates.
I join colleagues who have reiterated key calls made by Pancreatic Cancer UK. They include providing a clear and urgent national-level focus on pancreatic cancer and other less survivable cancers, investment in targeted innovative pancreatic cancer research, producing more and better data, publishing the 10-year cancer plan and improving access to PERT. However, I would like to focus on an additional call in my speech today.
I acknowledge the good work the Government have done in this space already, including trying to raise awareness of PERT, conducting better data audits, looking to see how we can improve diagnosis and providing a commitment to look at that in the 10-year cancer plan. I hope the Minister can provide us with some assurances about the publication of that plan. We know that health disparities exist across the country and between people with different protected characteristics, but I hope we can learn from an example of best practice in my own constituency.
In Carshalton and Wallington, we are lucky to have the Royal Marsden on our doorstep, along with the Institute of Cancer Research, where world class research is happening, and the London Cancer Hub, which I would be delighted to invite the Minister to come and visit whenever she is free. That site is truly a world leader in cancer research, second only to those in the United States. The Royal Marsden is currently being refurbished, and it is looking to increase its capacity and work with partners to deliver new and innovative treatments.
One of the most exciting projects coming down the line is the partnership with the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. That project plans to invest in the existing two hospitals and build a third acute hospital, which will be a specialist emergency care hospital, on the old Sutton hospital site, next to the Royal Marsden. As well as providing state-of-the-art acute services, that will also help the Royal Marsden with capacity to provide cancer surgery on the Sutton site, rather than sending people covered by that catchment area up to Chelsea, which can sometimes be difficult. That means local cancer patients, and cancer patients from across south London, Surrey and parts of Sussex, will be able to conduct most, if not all, their cancer journey right on their doorsteps.
I welcome the work the Government have done to increase investment in the NHS and develop strategies in this area, but a major barrier that prevents optimal care, not just for pancreatic cancer but across the NHS and social care sector, is workforce. I know the Minister knows that already. Yesterday, I had the honour of chairing a roundtable event with the Westminster Health Forum to discuss how we tackle cancer backlogs and how we optimise cancer care in the UK. Again and again, workforce was brought up as the major barrier to improvement. We can invest as much money as we like, develop new strategies and, of course, find efficiencies and better ways to do things, for example by investing in digital and information technology, but without the workforce on the ground to deliver it, much of what we do will not create an impact, at least from a patient perspective, for a long time.
It must be stressed that workforce does not just mean doctors. Of course we need more doctors, and I am glad to see the progress the Government are making on our manifesto commitment to recruit more doctors, but it must also include nurses and allied health professionals, such as oncologists, pathologists, data scientists and all the specialists involved in the cancer pathway. I appreciate that creates a massive challenge, because we cannot magic a skilled workforce out of nowhere: it takes years to train the staff required. There are a few things the Government can do in the short term to encourage recruitment and retention—I reiterate calls to look again at NHS pensions, which are incentivising early retirement—but workforce options are few and far between, without training the next generation of the NHS workforce.
As the Minister may have guessed, my fifth call to Government is that a specific NHS and social care workforce plan is developed, alongside the cancer plan, in order to take advantage of the measures available in the short term and to increase the number of people in that highly trained workforce. That will help to fill the vacancies that it is necessary to fill and deliver first class, nationwide cancer care, including for pancreatic cancer patients.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the calls from colleagues and from Pancreatic Cancer UK, because as has been set out so well, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be truly devastating for people. I hope the Government can offer some assurance and some hope to patients today, and to future cancer patients, about the work they are undertaking to improve patient experiences.
Thank you for your indulgence in allowing me to speak, Mr Hollobone. I commend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate; he is a tireless champion for his constituents and for many issues that impact the lives of people across the United Kingdom.
The words pancreatic cancer strike fear into us all, as it is widely recognised to be the most deadly form of this terrible disease. We all know of people in our own lives who, when faced with that diagnosis, have fought valiantly, but ultimately have succumbed to this aggressive form of cancer. Sadly, I know of some who are no longer with us, who were diagnosed during the pandemic and so received the devastating news alone. They were not allowed to have anyone there to comfort them, offer spiritual support or bring someone with them on their treatment journey. That is cruel in the aftermath of such a cruel diagnosis.
As with all cancers, early detection of the disease and the resumption of treatment is of fundamental importance. It is when considering this aspect that we must look closely at access to GPs. As Members across the House have said, over the last two years we have seen how obtaining any appointment, even by telephone, is increasingly difficult. Face-to-face appointments are almost impossible to secure for many people. The vague symptoms that often present for those with pancreatic cancer are unlikely to trigger any form of consultation, particularly face to face. They are also most likely to lead to a patient giving up the fight to see their GP, given the barriers to consultation.
We have rightly spoken today about the awareness of symptoms and the importance of early detection. My concern is the pathway to investigation of symptoms; detection is blocked off at that first point of community healthcare. We need to focus on GP services and ensure GPs are resourced and then willing to return to pre-pandemic practices. Colleagues have rightly spoken about research and the importance of increasing funding. We have seen encouraging developments in recent years, including in the research led by Queen’s University Belfast. I join others in asking for increased funding towards treatments to help save lives.
I will finish by commending some of the charities in my own constituency and in Northern Ireland, which are so forward thinking in raising funds to support those who receive a diagnosis, as well as the families who have to live with that diagnosis. They also help to fund research. I commend NIPANC, a charity headed up by Mr Mark Taylor and supported by a family in my constituency, Mrs Susan McLaughlin and her two sons, Aaron and Adam. They lost a father and a husband, Colin. Adam was just three when Colin died very suddenly from pancreatic cancer. I want to commend Mrs Victoria Poole, who volunteers with Pancreatic Cancer UK and who also lives in my constituency. They are all strong advocates who want to see change and to see the Government stepping up to the mark with regards to pancreatic cancer research.
I am reminded of a lady I met when I was a Member of the Assembly between 1998 to 2010. Her name was Una Crudden, and she brought the issue to my attention. She was a great advocate of how to deal with pancreatic cancer; she was raising awareness, even back at that time. I often think of her because she was a determined lady and a great supporter of her family. They were a family who were very much together. I am minded that she struggled with that disease for four or five years and ultimately passed away, but it is the Una Cruddens of this world—my hon. Friend referred to some of her constituents—who bring this matter to the fore.
Absolutely. I knew Una from my Stormont days as well—she was a courageous lady who deserves to be mentioned in this debate.
I pay tribute to all those who are involved in charities. They support our healthcare system and I commend them today because they are the true heroes. The NIPANC motto for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is “Time Matters”, and the message today is that time matters: understand the symptoms and seek urgent, early diagnosis.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate on Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and setting out matters in such great detail for us. We have heard from hon. Members about a wide range of issues faced by constituents across the nations of the UK in dealing with this type of cancer. The hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) spoke of how well informed her constituents are and the asks they have of the Government in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) spoke of her constituent Barbara and her experience of NHS services failing to identify and diagnose her cancer in time. We also heard from the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), and I thank all Members for their contributions.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and 17 November is World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2022. It is so important to raise awareness through these days and through our debates to improve early diagnosis by ensuring that more people know the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer. It has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers and is the deadliest common cancer in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. There are around 10,500 new cases in the UK each year. That equates to 29 cases every single day. It is the 10th most common cancer in the United Kingdom, accounting for 3% of all new cases, and the fifth biggest cancer killer with 9,000 deaths each year. In Scotland, there are around 900 new cases per year, with an incidence rate of 15.5 per 100,000 people.
Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas—a large gland that is part of our digestive system. In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas does not cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose, as we have heard. Symptoms can vary from person to person and may include jaundice, indigestion, stomach or gut pain, back pain, diarrhoea, constipation or weight loss. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to diagnose early, as we have heard so many times, and Pancreatic Cancer UK reports that 80% of cancer patients are not diagnosed until the cancer is at an advanced stage. While the causes are not clear, it is most common among those aged 75 years and over, with almost half of all new cases diagnosed falling in that age demographic.
Early diagnosis is crucial to improving survival outcomes, with one year survival rates for those diagnosed at an early stage being six times higher than those diagnosed at stage 4. However, most people with pancreatic cancer are unfortunately diagnosed at that late stage. At present, surgery is the only treatment with curative intent for pancreatic cancer, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been shown to improve survival in those with late- stage pancreatic cancer. If it is diagnosed at a late stage, surgery to remove the cancer is usually not possible.
The Scottish Government are committed to diagnosing cancer as early as possible, which is why they continue to invest in their detect cancer early programme, or DCE, and are rolling out rapid cancer diagnostic services across Scotland. We know the earlier that cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. That is why the Scottish Government continue to invest in that programme, which adopts a whole-system approach to diagnose and treat cancer as early as possible. They are developing a new plan for early diagnosis as part of their new cancer strategy to be put in place in spring.
The new 10-year strategy will take a comprehensive approach to improving patient pathways from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care. That follows on from the establishment of three rapid diagnostic services centres, developed within the NHS infrastructure. The centres are in Ayrshire and Arran, Dumfries and Galloway, and Fife. They will play a key role in delivering early diagnosis and improved care, with fast-track diagnostic testing at the first appointment wherever possible.
The First Minister announced as recently as 10 October that the next two rapid cancer diagnostic services centres in NHS Scotland will go live in my own NHS board of NHS Lanarkshire and in NHS Borders. Through the NHS recovery plan, the Government in Holyrood have invested £29 million to provide an increase of 70,000 diagnostic procedures next year and 90,000 by the end of the plan in 2026. A new DCE awareness campaign is also under development to empower people with possible cancer symptoms to act early. That is due to be published in spring 2023.
In Scotland, it has been recognised that the impact of the covid-19 pandemic may have exacerbated inequalities within cancer screening, and the Scottish Government have committed up to £2.45 million to the screening inequalities fund over the past two years. Public awareness campaigns and messages have run throughout the pandemic to encourage those with possible cancer symptoms to seek help. To support scope-based diagnostics, the Scottish Government have published a £70 million endoscopy and urology diagnostic recovery and renewal plan, focusing on key areas such as balancing demand and capacity, optimising clinical pathways, improving quality and efficiency, workforce training and development, and infrastructure and innovation redesign. A further £9 million has been allocated this financial year to support diagnostic imaging capacity, with six mobile MRI scanners and five CT scanners in place across Scotland’s NHS.
Despite all that work and all the amazing work of charities and activist organisations, and their dedicated supporters, which has been placed on the record today, there is still so much more for us to do. Investment in facilities, improved treatment options and early detection are all necessary, but it is also vital that research into alternative cancer treatments continues and expands. The Scottish Government provided an average of £2 million each year to cancer research causes in the five years before the pandemic, and that remains our priority.
According to Pancreatic Cancer UK, research into the disease has been underfunded for decades. The charity estimates that pancreatic cancer receives 1.4% of cancer research funding and yet is the fifth biggest cancer killer. Just recently, to mark World Cancer Day, Cancer Research UK delivered a cash injection of £12 million to the Cancer Research UK Scotland centre, supporting the work of cancer researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. Professor Ian Tomlinson, who is co-director of the centre, welcomed the finance but highlighted how challenging the previous year had been and the fact that covid-19 has slowed down research.
Finally, we in the SNP commend all the charities and activist organisations and their dedicated supporters for their tireless efforts to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. We have called on the UK Government to support Cancer Research UK and other research charities throughout the pandemic, while their funding activities have been curtailed by restrictions, and now in the face of people being more cautious with their money. With the Tory cost of living crisis continuing to undermine people’s financial security and their ability to support charitable efforts, it is more important than ever for the Government to step in and support charities in their work and to directly fund cancer research.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking and paying tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this morning’s debate to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
As other Members have done, I pay tribute to the brilliant work of Pancreatic Cancer UK. Such organisations are vital in raising awareness of this awful disease. I also praise the important contributions made by all Members, and thank them especially for sharing the touching stories of their constituents.
As we have heard throughout the debate, pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of the common cancers. It affects about 10,000 people a year across the UK, with three in five of those being diagnosed at a very late stage. More than half of those people will die within three months of diagnosis, only 7% will survive for more than five years, and 5% will survive for 10 years or longer. The figures are even worse in Northern Ireland, as we have heard.
In the North Central London integrated care board area, within which my constituency of Enfield North falls, 161 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, and there were 153 deaths due to pancreatic cancer, so I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by pancreatic cancer and with the family members of those who are suffering. Those statistics are shocking, but even more shocking is the fact that they have barely changed in the past 50 years, and that the UK ranks 29th of 33 countries with comparable data on five-year survival for people with pancreatic cancer.
One reason for the tragically low survival rates is the stage at which people are diagnosed, as was mentioned by the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) and for Strangford, and other Members who contributed. Only 16% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at an early stage. For many, it is simply too late, so I would be grateful if the Minister outlined how the Government intend to improve the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
One thing we cannot ignore is the cancer backlog. Over the past decade, pancreatic cancer mortality rates have increased by a fifth. Waiting lists have risen to record levels and the proportion of people waiting less than 18 weeks for treatment is at its lowest in a decade. At the end of July 2020, waiting lists had risen to a record 6.8 million people, with almost 400,000 patients waiting more than a year. The Government are missing their target to eradicate the two-year wait, and analysis produced in May by Macmillan found that it could take more than five years to clear England’s cancer treatment backlog. For pancreatic cancer patients, that is simply not good enough. They cannot afford to wait.
Many Members have spoken about the workforce element, which underpins all the issues outlined in the debate. As was eloquently described by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), without a robust workforce strategy, our NHS will simply not be in a place to provide the support that pancreatic cancer patients need, yet Ministers continue to ignore those calls—even calls from their own Chancellor, who is the former Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. A recent report by the Committee said that the absence of a “serious effort” from the Government to tackle gaps in the cancer workforce is jeopardising earlier diagnosis, so I am keen to hear from the Minister what plans the Government have to ensure that staff are trained and retained sustainably, such that pancreatic cancer patients can always access care in a timely manner.
Labour has already set out its plans, pledging the biggest expansion of medical school places in history to give the NHS the doctors it needs so that patients can be seen on time. That commitment also includes creating 10,000 new nursing placements every year and training 5,000 new health visitors. Labour will also produce a long-term workforce plan for the NHS for the next five, 10 and 15 years to ensure that we do not find ourselves in this position again.
Members also mentioned the 10-year cancer plan. In February, the then Health Secretary announced a new war on cancer and launched a call for evidence to inform a new 10-year cancer plan for England. That call for evidence closed in April. We are now on our fourth Health Secretary since April, but there is still no sign of the plan. That is not good enough not just for those suffering with pancreatic cancer, but for those with all forms of cancer. Will the Minister set out exactly when we can expect this cancer plan? As we emerge from the pandemic, people living with pancreatic cancer need an NHS that has the time and resources to support them. It is about time that the Government delivered on that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate, and for his work as chair of the APPG on pancreatic cancer. He is right: we should talk about pancreatic cancer; we should talk about how to improve survival rates and diagnosis rates; and we should talk about how we can raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. As we do so—including in this very debate—that in itself will make a difference, and if we do not debate this now, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, then when? I believe in seizing the moment.
I welcome the speeches from the hon. Members for Strangford, for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) and for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who also seized this moment to speak about pancreatic cancer. The hon. Member for Strangford spoke movingly about Rebecca Buggs, whose children were just eight and nine years old at the time she had surgery. I am very glad that because she was diagnosed early, she was able to have surgery, but we know that, sadly, her experience is the exception not the rule.
The hon. Member spoke about the importance of raising awareness of symptoms such as stomach and back pain, indigestion, unexplained weight loss and jaundice, and the importance of getting those symptoms checked if there is no explanation. He also spoke about research as the key to earlier diagnosis. On one of his questions, I will answer straightaway that, yes, I would be delighted to join him for a meeting with Pancreatic Cancer UK. I will come to his other questions as I go through my speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned that she wants to help everybody and, knowing her well as a colleague, I know that that is absolutely true. She also mentioned the catchphrase, “The clue is in the loo,” as mentioned by other hon. Members. She spoke movingly about one of her constituents, a young woman who spent five years going to and from her GP with symptoms, including fatigue and bloating, which brought to life how hard this cancer is to detect. She also talked about the PERT treatment, which I will come to in a moment.
It is very good to see the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, a former chair of the APPG, here and to hear her speaking so eloquently in this debate. She spoke about Barbara, a PE teacher, and about the healthy life she lived. Barbara went many times to get a diagnosis, but it took almost 18 months to get one. Again, sadly, that brought to life how hard this cancer is to detect.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for acknowledging the work that the Government have done, particularly on raising awareness for pancreatic cancer. He talked about the importance of the workforce, which I will come to. He also asked me to visit the Royal Marsden, of which he is rightly proud, and which I would be delighted to do.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann spoke about the importance of access to GPs. She called for more funding into research, and said, rightly, that time matters.
I will come to many of the points that hon. Members have raised, but first, I believe in saying it as it is. Nearly 10,000 people a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and that figure has steadily increased since 2013. Diagnosis rates increase with age, and from the mid-40s onwards pancreatic cancer is more common in men than in women. Just under a quarter of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, so three quarters are not. About 40% of diagnoses follow an emergency presentation. The one-year survival rate is just 27% and the five-year survival rate is only 7.8%. Although those figures have improved in the past 10 years, they are still bleak for anyone who receives a diagnosis and for their loved ones. That is why it is right to talk about pancreatic cancer.
As with many other cancers, early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is crucial so that there is the opportunity for successful treatment. One of the Government’s healthcare priorities is to improve early diagnosis of all cancers, and to achieve 75% diagnosis at stage 1 or stage 2 by 2028, compared with the current rate of about 50%. We have opened 91 community diagnostic centres, which have carried out 2 million extra scans, tests and checks, including cancer tests. We are rolling out non-specific symptom pathways so that people with symptoms such as weight loss or fatigue are either diagnosed or have cancer ruled out. We are encouraging people to go and get their symptoms checked. The NHS’s “Help Us, Help You” campaign tackles the barriers that prevent some people from getting their symptoms checked, such as fear about what might be found.
The hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) talked about waiting times, and I assure her that we are tackling them. This August, more than 19,000 patients saw an upper gastrointestinal specialist, compared with 17,600 last August, and 17% more patients have seen a specialist within the two-week performance standard. That said, I recognise that the NHS is still not hitting the standard for enough people—it is currently 83%, compared with the 93% standard—so we will continue to support the NHS’s efforts to tackle waiting lists and backlogs.
On treatment, credit is due to hard-working NHS staff who have increased cancer treatment levels to 107%, compared with pre-pandemic levels. The cancer drugs fund has helped more than 80,000 patients, and we are investing £5.4 million in five new national clinical audits of cancer, one of which is focused on pancreatic cancer.
As several hon. Members said, the key to making a big leap forward in survival rates for diseases such as pancreatic cancer is research—research into tests that will achieve earlier diagnosis and research into treatments. The Government spend £1 billion a year on health research through the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The NIHR has funded seven research projects for pancreatic cancer since 2019, with a committed spend of about £3.6 million. That is about 5% of the NIHR’s total funding for cancer research, which is over £73.5 million.
I referred to the fact that Pancreatic Cancer UK has raised £10 million for research every year, and one of its requests is that the Government match that. I thank the Government very much for the £3.6 million that is going to pancreatic cancer, but is it possible for that extra bit of effort to be made and for the Government to match the charity’s £10 million? I do not want to put the Minister on the spot, but I really do think that is an important issue.
I absolutely hear the hon. Gentleman’s request, which is for match funding for the funding contributed by Pancreatic Cancer UK. I will say two things about that. Another function of the NIHR is to support research where the funding comes from other organisations; it already does that. In fact, it has supported 70 pancreatic cancer-related studies that have been funded by others.
The other point, which the hon. Gentleman may be aware of, is that the NIHR does not actually ringfence funding for specific diseases. That is similar to his match funding point. The NIHR is ready to fund research. It looks at applications for funding from the research community and then allocates that funding by looking at the merits of the proposal. We should encourage more bids for funding for pancreatic cancer research and more bids to go into the NIHR, which would then enable it to allocate more funding. I am assured the NIHR stands ready to fund pancreatic cancer research; it is about getting those applications in to carry out that research. I could publish a highlight notice to flag to the research community the importance of pancreatic cancer, which may go some way to achieving what the hon. Gentleman seeks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke about PERT and asked why it is not prescribed for more people. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline NG85 recommends that PERT be offered to patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and NICE includes PERT in its quality standard for pancreatic cancer. NICE guidelines do not replace clinical judgment. They are not mandatory; they are guidelines. However, it is clear that PERT should be discussed between a doctor and a patient so a clinical decision can be made. I heard what my hon. Friend called for and I will look into whether there is evidence that such discussions between doctor and patient are not happening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington spoke about the importance of the workforce and, as the daughter of two NHS doctors and a former Minister for the NHS workforce, I agree with him. In essence, the NHS is its workforce, and I am proud that we are on track to achieve our ambition of 50,000 more nurses. Talking specifically about the cancer workforce, the workforce plan published in 2017 set an ambition to increase the workforce by 1,500 full-time equivalents by 2021. That has been achieved and, in fact, exceeded by 226 staff members.
Since then, Health Education England has been taking forward the priorities in the cancer workforce plan, with an additional £50 million of funding in the last financial year and this one. Also, a significant proportion of the elective recovery funding—£8 billion in the next two years—will be spent on workforce, both on capacity and skills. I assure my hon. Friend that, as the Minister with oversight of cancer care, I will look carefully at whether we have the necessary workforce coming on track now and in the future to achieve our ambitions and aspirations for cancer care.
The hon. Member for Strangford and several others asked about the 10-year cancer plan, and I know hon. Members are keen to hear about progress. More than 5,000 individuals and organisations responded to the Government’s call for evidence. The Government are considering the responses and the next steps, so I may have to disappoint some colleagues who may want to know more, because that is as far as I will go today. I assure hon. Members that I know how strongly they and their constituents feel about the matter.
I have welcomed this debate as a chance to talk about all the work going on to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival rates, and crucially, to talk specifically about pancreatic cancer. Not least because raising awareness of pancreatic cancer is, in itself, an important step towards improving people’s chances of survival, raising awareness of the symptoms and, in turn, encouraging people to contact their GP and get themselves checked. I pay tribute to everyone involved in Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, particularly to Pancreatic Cancer UK and to everyone taking part, whether that is walking 30 km this month or doing their own thing to raise funds and awareness. I thank them all for what they are doing. In turn, I will do what I can in Government to support all those efforts and to improve the chances for anyone suffering from pancreatic cancer.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, in particular the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). It is not a great headline, and not one we want to think about, but hers was, “The clue is in the loo.” That is a fact. The hon. Lady also referred to the medical system as failing, and many of us feel the same. We have to highlight the negatives and then ask for the positives. It is not about negativity all the time; it is about looking for solutions, which is what we all try to do. She also referred to people taking 60 tablets a day and nutritional expertise, which is part of the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) referred to the Northern Ireland statistics and early diagnosis. My good friend, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), referred to raising awareness of the signs and symptoms: 16% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at a very early stage. She referred to her constituent Barbara, as did the Minister. It is humbling to think that that lady had all the symptoms but, after various investigations, nobody could find what was wrong. The hon. Lady and others, including the Minister, referred to better GP awareness, as well as a test that works, which is really important.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) rightly referred to the good work that has been done. We often focus on the negatives rather than the positives, but many people are doing good things. He also referred to awareness of the publication of the plan, and he clearly made five calls. He also referred to digital and IT and the steps forward, but we need a workforce of people physically on the ground. He also referred to the good work in his constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) referred to the impact on families, which is sometimes forgotten when the focus is on individuals. She also referred to contact with GPs and hospitals, and a pathway to detection, focusing on the GP service. She also mentioned research at Queen’s University Belfast. Her headline was, “Time matters,” and so it does.
As always in these debates, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and I are together. We are mostly on the same side, unless we are discussing constitutional issues, but that is by the way. He referred to pancreatic cancer being the deadliest cancer—the fifth biggest killer in the UK. He also referred to some good work in Scotland with its 10-year strategy. I am a bit envious of some of the things that Scotland does. I thank him for sharing that with us. He also referred to the good work done by charities.
I always look forward to contributions from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), which always get close to the heart of things. She referred to pancreatic cancer as the deadliest of common cancers. The figures from her constituency— I think this is right or not far away—of 161 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 153 deaths are shocking. She implored the Government to bring in early diagnosis and improve the cancer backlog. She referred to nearly 400,000 people waiting for a cancer diagnosis and other things. She referred to the workforce, with more nurses needed. Her headline was, “War on cancer.”
Lastly, I thank the Minister, as I always do sincerely, as we all do. We understand the Minister’s deep interest in the subject matter. She grasped the issues we want addressed and said to seize the moment. She also referred to Rebecca Buggs, the lady I mentioned. There is a need for research and development. The Minister referred to the bleak figures of 25% diagnosis, with 75% not diagnosed. She recognises the issues and I believe she also recognises the solutions. That is why I welcome her commitment, when she said that more is needed.
Matched funding for Pancreatic Cancer UK was referred to, with a figure of £10 million, and £3.5 million or £3.6 million committed by Government. The Minister will do that. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and I and others have a meeting with the Minister, and I thank her very much for that. We look forward to it and thank the Minister for that commitment.
We also welcome the 50,000 new nurses that the Government have committed to. It is important to have a knowledgeable workforce. We also welcome the 10-year cancer strategy. Those are things that we all agree on. We look to the Minister to lead the charge for the 10-year strategy, because it is important to have that in place. I conclude by thanking everyone for their contributions, especially the Minister.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered pancreatic cancer awareness month.