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Healthcare: Brain Tumours

Volume 800: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to improve access to palliative care, rehabilitation and psychosocial care for people living with a brain tumour, and (2) to provide support for their carers and families.

My Lords, the NHS Long Term Plan sets a clear ambition that, where appropriate, every person diagnosed with cancer will have access to personalised care by 2021. Personalised care includes support planning based on holistic needs assessments, end-of-treatment summaries, health and well-being information and support and a cancer care review with GPs. These interventions align with the comprehensive model for personalised care and should be made available for all cancer patients, including those in need of end-of-life care.

My Lords, International Brain Tumour Awareness Week starts on Saturday, so it is timely to remember both patients and carers. Living with a brain tumour often means coping with life-changing symptoms, such as mental and emotional health issues, communication and mobility problems. Carers also need support in adjusting to these changes in the person they care for, including coping with difficult behaviour and personality changes, disorientation and confusion. Both Marie Curie and the Brain Tumour Charity have highlighted strong concern about inadequate support for carers and the impact on the care journey that carer breakdown in these circumstances can have, often leading to emergency hospital admission. What action are the Government taking to ensure that people with brain tumours, their carers and their families receive care and support that meets their needs and wishes?

The noble Baroness has raised a very important issue. Obviously, the Government are working to deliver the Carers Action Plan, which retains the strategic vision of recognising, valuing and supporting carers. It includes a commitment to 64 actions across five priorities to ensure that we improve support for carers, including recognition and support, and build evidence to improve outcomes, especially in these very difficult areas. We are also working hard with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission to ensure that we improve pathways for those with very challenging brain tumour diagnoses.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, has highlighted a very important topic, because the outcomes and experiences of people with brain tumours and brain cancers are terrible and have not improved in decades. The actions my noble friend has set out are important, but it took the leadership of our late and much missed noble friend to galvanise action. Part of that action was a pledge from the Government of £40 million from the National Institute for Health Research to improve research into treatments, therapies and care for people with brain tumours. Can my noble friend update the House on what progress has been made on that and how the money is being spent?

I thank my noble friend for his question and I pay tribute to his leadership on this issue. He is absolutely right that we must improve outcomes for those diagnosed with brain cancer, and one of the ways of doing so will be through earlier diagnosis. That is why the Prime Minister announced measures with the aim of seeing 75% of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028 to save 55,000 lives a year. My noble friend is right, however, that we will deliver this only through improved research specifically targeted at brain cancers. The Government announced £40 million over five years for brain tumour research. This can be delivered only through the submission of high-quality research and I know that the Tessa Jowell mission is working to ensure that that becomes a reality.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, outlined a perfectly reasonable list of requirements and I am pleased that they all fall within the NHS long-term plan. However, “long-term” is slightly ill defined—by when will all these requirements be met?

We are working to deliver earlier diagnosis to improve survival of 75% of cancers by 2028. We are also working to improve the one-year survival rates of adults diagnosed since 2016 over the next 10 years. We are also making sure that we improve the commitment of the £40 million over the next five years. I hope that answers the noble Baroness’s question.

My Lords, I am a vice-president of a hospice in Exeter which is raising money to provide 24-hour care at home. Does the Minister recognise how important it is for those in palliative care, particularly those with brain cancers, to be able to spend the rest of their lives—and die—at home?

The noble and learned Baroness is quite right that people should have a choice in end-of-life care. The long-term plan recognises that we need to improve that choice and the quality of discussions around it. That is at the heart of the drive to improve personal health budgets and help staff identify personalised care planning for end-of-life care. I hope that reassures the noble and learned Baroness that this is seen as a top priority in end-of-life care planning.

My Lords, the Minister has mentioned NHS support, but she will know that by far the majority of support for carers in these circumstances comes from local authorities. How does she react to all the current research showing that not only are services diminishing for carers in local authority areas but also the number of assessments, in contradiction to obligations under the Care Act and the carers action plan?

The noble Baroness will know that this has been identified as a priority, not only from the call to action from carers themselves that services and systems that work for them should be improved, but also because it is one of the 64 actions in the carers action plan. It is something the Government are determined to take action on. We are concerned by the reports and taking action to improve it.

My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that at its conference the Labour Party adopted as its policy on social care pretty well the recommendations of the all-party Economic Affairs Committee of this House? Is there now a unique opportunity for us to get a political consensus on the need to provide free personal care? The root of this problem is that access to free personal care depends on diagnosis, not need. Is it not now time for the Government to produce a White Paper and work with the Opposition to produce the consensus that everyone concerned with this matter realises needs to be achieved?

I first congratulate my noble friend on his leadership on this issue; it has been noted by the House and very much welcomed. He is absolutely right that leadership on social care is essential and that it is time for action on this. The Prime Minister has been clear that he wants to end the suffering in social care once and for all, and will bring forward announcements on his immediate plans for that very soon.