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10-Year Cancer Plan

Volume 724: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2022

Earlier this year, we held a successful call for evidence on a new cancer plan, which received 5,000 responses. We are now considering those responses and how we can best support the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients. I will be in a position to update the House shortly.

I thank the Minister for her response, but it has been five months since July, when the 10-year cancer plan was due to be published, and 10 months since February, when the war on cancer was announced. While the Government have delayed, cancer patients have faced unacceptable waiting times for diagnosis and treatment. Performance over the past five months has been the worst on record against the target of a 62-day wait between the GP referral for suspected cancer and the first treatment. I ask the Minister respectfully: does she agree that we in this House and the people of this country now need a long-term, ambitious plan to reduce waits and ensure that cancer patients in this country have the best outcomes possible? Will she set out a timeline—not just say “shortly”—for delivering such a plan?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot comment on what is happening in Northern Ireland, because health is a devolved matter. I can only update him on what is happening in England. We are not waiting for a cancer plan to start on the backlogs: that is why this Government are investing £8 billion over three years to clear the elective backlog. We are seeing record numbers of patients. Cancer treatments continued throughout the pandemic, but we are seeing a higher number coming through than usual. Despite the increase of more than 129% in patients getting urgent GP referrals since September 2019, 91% of patients in England are receiving their treatment within 31 days of the decision to treat, compared with just 87% of patients in Northern Ireland in June. We are very committed to reducing cancer waiting times. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman may wish to speak to the Minister in Northern Ireland as well.

Diagnostic activity, whether in vivo or in vitro, forms part of more than 85% of clinical pathways. Will my hon. Friend confirm that it will receive due recognition in the 10-year cancer strategy?

May I thank my hon. Friend for all her hard work during her time as a Health Minister? We are going through the responses to the call for evidence right now; as I have indicated, we will update the House shortly. I will very much take her points on board.

My constituent Jesse, who is 24, was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer. It has been devastating to her. She has had a very difficult year of treatment; crucially, after her initial round of treatment, there were delays in accessing a scan because of the backlogs in the NHS. There is a real need for a proper cancer care plan to make sure that she gets her scans as regularly as necessary. Other patients need them as well, but her scan was two months later than it should have been under the standard of care, leaving her in absolute terror that her cancer would come back. The fear is almost as bad as the disease itself. What plans does the Minister have to make sure that the 10-year cancer plan really gets to grips to the backlog, which is devastating people’s lives?

I am sorry to hear about the experience of the hon. Lady’s constituent. I am sure that she will welcome the 91 community diagnostic centres that have already been set up to provide a range of tests, including CTs, ultrasounds and MRIs. We are expecting to deliver up to 160 community diagnostic centres in total, with the capacity for up to 9 million more scans per year when they are fully operational. That will not just deal with the backlog, but future-proof our diagnostic services.

The Minister will know that cancer is the biggest cause of death in children under 14. There are countless instances of failure and missed opportunity in how we detect it, how we treat it and how we care for children with cancer. I am grateful to her for meeting my constituent Charlotte Fairall earlier this year, who tragically lost her daughter Sophie. Does the Minister agree that we need a childhood cancer mission embedded in the heart of any cancer strategy if we are serious about saving other families from that tragedy?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her hard work in this space and for leading our debate on childhood cancer outcomes in this Chamber. I was delighted to meet her constituent Charlotte, who is campaigning so hard on the issue. I promised her that we would look at a child cancer mission; we will update the House on our progress shortly.