Monday 8th September,
Westminster Hall Debate,
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Chope. I apologise for not being present for the whole debate; I meant no discourtesy to colleagues. I wanted very much to speak in the debate. I begin by congratulating my good and hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who made a very moving contribution. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, all the volunteers. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie Watts, but there are also many hundreds of others working in charities and as volunteers who have campaigned so effectively on this issue; they have helped secure the signatures to get this debate on what is very often a forgotten and neglected form of cancer.
I know that there are time constraints, but there are some specific issues that I want to raise with the Minister. I will just make some general points and then move straight to my questions. We know from earlier contributions that pancreatic cancer is not an uncommon cancer. My understanding is that by the time this debate has concluded, three more people will have lost their lives to the disease.
We heard in the contribution from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the UK still lags behind most other European countries when it comes to cancer survival rates. To be fair, there have been significant improvements in cancer treatments across the board in recent decades, but as we are aware the rates for pancreatic cancer, at 5.2%, have virtually stood still in the past four decades, so this is not a criticism of the current Minister or the present regime—the present Government.
The very nature of pancreatic cancer contributes towards poor survival rates. I do not intend to go over the arguments put so eloquently earlier about the difficulty of getting a proper diagnosis and the lack of an effective pathway to make the necessary early referrals. However, one thing that I am concerned about—I want to put this point to the Minister—is this. Yes, it is very important to have awareness campaigns, and I pay tribute to the campaigners who have brought this subject to Parliament today, but if we are to have real progress, there need to be improved treatments as well. Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute partners’ research spend. That equates to £625 per death.
I fully understand that we one cannot equate such things in financial terms, but that compares with almost £3,500 per death on breast cancer, the campaign against which receives much more public attention. If we as politicians—I am talking about all politicians; this is not a criticism of the Minister or the Government—are serious about improving survival rates for pancreatic cancer, our rhetoric must be backed up with firm action on the allocation of resources.
We have heard that relatively few treatment options are available for patients with pancreatic cancer, and research into the development of new drugs and treatments is key if we are to bring survival rates for pancreatic cancer down towards those of other common cancers. Over the past week or so, the case of the little boy Ashya has been in the news, and we have heard about the terrible circumstances and trauma that his parents went through in being unable to access the advanced radiotherapy that they felt was an appropriate form of treatment for their son. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood has already referred to the potential of advanced radiotherapy. Forms of the treatment such as NanoKnife and CyberKnife, which can target tumours very precisely with intense bursts of radiation, may be particularly effective for some, although not all, pancreatic cancer patients.
I know that the Minister is sick of me going on about advanced radiotherapy, but we are not doing as much as we should to develop the evidence base for the treatment. I fully understand that it is not suitable for all types of cancer, or even for all types of pancreatic cancer; there are a number of different forms. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence insists that before it allows routine use of the treatment, particularly in the NHS, there must be an evidence base.
Many of the cancer charities that I have spoken to have argued that, as a matter of urgency, the technology for advanced radiotherapy must be verified. I make an appeal to the Minister on that. Patients already receive advanced radiotherapy for other cancer types, and the treatment is available for private patients. I fully understand that we need to have an evidence base and see what is effective in different circumstances. Until research into advanced forms of radiotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is increased and the viability of the technology can be properly verified—until we actually grasp the nettle and fund the research and the trials—NHS patients will continue to miss out.
Stephen McPartland: The hon. Gentleman and I have debated radiotherapy and chemotherapy several times. I am proud that my NHS hospital trust was given the first CyberKnife by a wealthy donor, so it has the evidence required for advanced techniques and advanced radiotherapy. I sound a note of caution, however. My constituents have to make a 60-mile round trip to access that treatment. We have just opened a chemotherapy unit that can be used by someone who has cancer in Stevenage, but if they receive radiotherapy they often have to make a 4,000-mile journey over the course of their treatment. Although patients can have advanced radiotherapy, the difficulty is accessing that treatment.
Grahame M. Morris: That is a sensible point, which I have made to the Minister and several of her predecessors on a number of occasions. My view is that each of the 28 cancer networks should have access to advanced radiotherapy and that we should carry out a series of trials to evaluate the effectiveness of that treatment.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly on research into advanced radiotherapy. I hope that when our successors debate the matter in 40 years’ time, they will be talking about survival rates significantly higher than the current 3%. For that to happen, I respectfully say that the Government, or a Government, must act.