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Brain Tumours

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2023

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 set a target for the number of glioblastoma patients who take part in clinical trials each year; to require training for medical oncologists to include training relating to brain cancers; to provide that any drug that has been licensed for use on tumours must be trialled on people with brain tumours; to make provision in relation to neuro-oncology multidisciplinary teams in the NHS, including a requirement that each such team must include a medical oncologist; to require manufacturers of drugs licensed to treat tumours to make those drugs available in specified circumstances for clinical trials relating to brain tumours; and for connected purposes.

I hope the House will hear me today, because I have made this speech before and have absolutely no doubt that I will make it again. In fact, I will make this speech over and over again until we have turned a corner.

My speech today is about glioblastoma brain tumours. It is the deadly disease that my wonderful sister, Margaret, suffered from for 18 months, and it is a deadly disease with which over 3,200 people are diagnosed every year. For every one of those 3,200 people, there was a time when a doctor sat them down in a room and gave them the bad news—the worst news. I can talk about that because, sadly, I have been in that room with Margaret. What they tell people is that there is no hope. The life expectancy for someone diagnosed with a glioblastoma is, on average, nine months and, after a basic course of treatment, the NHS leaves them to die.

Those who have the money travel abroad for private treatment, safe in the knowledge that the NHS has nothing to offer them. Those who have a support network but who are not rich enough, are forced to crowdfund and to fly thousands of miles to access treatment. The rest, sadly, have to accept their fate. There is no hope. They just have to wait. If they are lucky, they get to nine months.

In March, when I made my first speech about glioblastoma, I felt the same way that I have always felt. I was filled with hopelessness, appalled that the disease has been ignored for so long and left at the bottom of the “too difficult” pile for 30 years. The Government have not touched the sides of the £40 million they allocated for research into glioblastoma. After five years, they have spent just £12 million, a quarter of the amount promised. Universities have ignored glioblastoma for years, too. Glioblastoma is not even on the research agenda. Many universities are focusing their resources on trials on mice, neglecting the 3,200 real people who are crying out for new research and clinical trials.

It is a pretty grim landscape, but it has not been like this for people diagnosed with many other cancers. People with breast, bowel and lung cancers have had the hope of research, clinical trials and funding promises being kept. The Government, universities and pharmaceutical companies have come together to make a concerted effort to change things, and they did.

Just look at what we have done for people with lung cancer. In 2010, only one in 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer survived for five years. By 2020, life expectancy had doubled. In 2010, 83% of people diagnosed with breast cancer survived for five years. By 2020, 86% got to live for five years. In 2010, 58% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer survived for five years. In 2020, we managed to bring that figure up to 60%. However, for people diagnosed with a glioblastoma, there has been no progress and no hope that things will get better. In 2010, the five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with a glioblastoma was 11.9%. Ten years later, in 2020, the survival rate was almost identical: just 12.9%.

Although the treatment and life expectancy of people diagnosed with a glioblastoma has not changed in 30 years, I feel more hopeful today because, since I made this speech in March, I have met the Minister for Health and Secondary Care, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), and the shadow Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). I have also met clinicians, charities, families and universities, and last week I met representatives of the top pharmaceutical companies in the UK to discuss why we are where we are. Having built up a clearer picture of where we are, I know that if we try something different, we can give people diagnosed with this deadly disease some hope.

So here is something different. First, we need a target of getting 200 glioblastoma patients each year into clinical trials on drugs that have the potential to change the course of the disease. That would be 1,000 patients over the lifetime of a Parliament. With those trials, we could begin to understand what works and what does not.

Secondly, the NHS should take every drug that has already been licensed to deal with other tumours and apply them to clinical trials on glioblastoma brain tumours. That has not yet happened because glioblastoma is a very small target market for the pharmaceutical industry, and such investment is not very profitable. The Government must either encourage or force the pharmaceutical companies to provide the drugs for these trials. Applying those existing drugs would be a cheap way to make a huge difference. It is sometimes the only way that makes a difference. Universities should act as partners in these trials. They should be snapping up the opportunity to carry out research in this area, instead of leaving the field untouched.

Thirdly, the NHS should ensure that every neuro-oncology multidisciplinary team has a medical oncologist who is a core member and is required to attend meetings to discuss patients, so that brain tumour patients are not left in a corner of the ward because there is no specialist arguing for them. Unless a neuro-oncologist is in the room, we will not benefit from their ideas or expertise.

Fourthly, the NHS should require that every doctor training to be a medical oncologist should go through a mandatory course on brain tumours. At the moment, the Royal College of Physicians requires no compulsory training. Doctors have to take two courses on bowel cancer as part of their training, but not a single course on brain tumours. The reason why there is nobody on those wards or in the research infrastructure is because nobody is required to do the training. Who can apply for the research funds if there is nobody in the field?

If we do those four things, we have a chance of some hope. I have not just whisked up this four-point plan; it is the result of meeting experts in the field, including none other than Dr Paul Mulholland, Europe’s leading brain tumour oncologist. If we carry out those four steps, experts think we can drastically improve treatment for everyone diagnosed with a glioblastoma. Some have even said that we could find a cure for glioblastoma within 10 years.

Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is what we have been doing for the past 30 years with the treatment of glioblastoma. We can do better, and Margaret’s legacy demands nothing less.

The hon. Lady will know that the whole House sends her our sincere sympathy for the loss of her sister, and that we all recognise the courage it takes for her to come to the House to speak about this very difficult subject. When I put the Question, I am not going to call for the “Noes,” because I know that nobody will say “No.”

Question put and agreed to.


That Siobhain McDonagh, Tracey Crouch, Greg Smith, Steve Brine, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Tony Lloyd, Dame Meg Hillier, Mr Clive Betts, Jon Cruddas, Paul Blomfield and Sarah Owen present the Bill.

Siobhain McDonagh accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 375).

Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

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

That the following provisions shall apply to the Energy Bill [Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 9 May 2023 (Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Message

(1) Proceedings on the Lords Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement.

Subsequent stages

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

(3) 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.—(Andrew Bowie.)

Question agreed to.