16th July 2012, Opposition Day: National Health Service, House of Commons
Thank you for calling me early, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to be able to participate in this important debate just before the recess.
I refer hon. Members to part of the Opposition motion:
“That this House regrets the growing gap between Ministers’ statements and what is happening in the NHS; notes mounting evidence of rationing of treatments and services by cost, despite Ministers’ claims to have prevented it”.
I would like to highlight one specific example. The Minister, who is not paying attention at the moment, may wish to make note of the issue, because it matters to cancer patients in my area and across the country. I am talking about the lack of access to advanced radiotherapy.
By way of background, I should say that the national cancer action team told NHS commissioners that radiotherapy is involved in 40% of cases in which cancer is cured. Furthermore, radiotherapy by itself now cures 16% of cancer patients. By contrast, cancer drugs are the main cure of only 2% of cancer patients. We can draw the conclusion that I hope the Department of Health and Ministers would accept: radiotherapy cures far more cancer patients than drugs. They should issue instructions to commissioners to reflect that and make money available for radiotherapy.
The current allocations are inadequate and arguably paltry. The radiotherapy budget for the current year is just £350 million, while the cancer drug budget is close to £1.5 billion. Within that sits the Government’s flagship cancer drugs fund, which, according to information that I have received, was underspent by £150 million. Despite that underspend, an additional £200 million is going into the cancer drugs fund. My concern is that that money is not for cancer patients but for cancer drug companies.
The whole idea is becoming discredited—so much so that, as has been reported in the newspapers, even Mr Clive Stone, the Prime Minister’s constituent who originally inspired the fund, has asked for less money to be put into the fund. Why? He now needs advanced radiotherapy for his cancer and there is no money available for him.
The cancer drugs fund cannot be used to fund advanced radiotherapy, and that is a real concern. I have no doubt that during the winding-up speeches we will be told that the Government are putting in an extra £150 million into new radiotherapy treatments over the next four years. The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), keeps telling us that, but when I ask him where the first and second year allocations—£13 million and £22 million—are being spent, he tells us that he does not know.
I thought I would try to help out the Minister, so I sent freedom of information requests to every strategic health authority asking how much of the money they had received and how their PCTs had spent it. I have good news for the Minister, who is not in his place. It is that he is not the only one who is in the dark when it comes to that £13 million and £22 million; the SHAs do not know either. I have the replies with me. I was going to read them out, but unfortunately I do not have time.
The stark truth is that under this Government no new money is going into providing the latest radiotherapy technologies for the NHS. In March last year, the Secretary of State commended some of the new facilities, including the new CyberKnife system at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London. Members, some of whom have also been to see the system, are concerned that charities are having to be used to raise money to buy that vital equipment. When I raised that issue in this Chamber, the Minister disputed that, but I have furnished him with a list of areas where it is happening. The Minister should accept his responsibility, get a grip on the situation and ensure that cancer patients needing advanced radiotherapy have access to the service that they need.
I support the motion.