Health and Social Care Debate
Tuesday 2nd June,
House of Commons
Health and Social Care Debate
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Queen’s Speech and on such an important subject. It is an absolute honour to follow so many excellent maiden speeches, not least that of my very good friend my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and some excellent contributions from all around the Chamber.
In the time available, I want to say a few things about health inequalities, cancer treatment and cancer outcomes. In my usual, inimitable style, Minister, and in the vein of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), I shall endeavour to be helpful. I have some specific suggestions to put to the Minister in the context of the Government’s commitments outlined in the Gracious Speech.
I pay tribute to the excellent work done in the campaign headed up by Lawrence Dallaglio. We can now look forward to hundreds of newly diagnosed cancer patients with some of the most complex cancers being treated with advanced stereotactic ablative radiotherapy—SABR, as it is commonly known. Although SABR is widely used in the rest of Europe and, indeed, the United States, it will be the first time that patients with cancer other than lung cancers will receive treatment here in the UK. Not only does SABR treat cancers that conventional radiotherapy cannot, but the advanced nature of the treatment is such that patients have to be irradiated four or five times, rather than 25 times with conventional radiotherapy. SABR is not only more effective and will save our cancer centres money, but, more important, it can dramatically reduce the number of times patients are exposed to radiation while still destroying the cancer.
I pay tribute to the work done by Tessa Munt, who previously represented the constituency of Wells. She was a real champion and I think it was she who initially got Lawrence Dallaglio involved. It is good news for many cancer patients—and I emphasise “many”, because those of us who live north of Birmingham would have had no chance of finding one cancer centre that could treat all the cancers that the Dallaglio campaign opened the door to. Patients in my Easington constituency in the north-east of England with a cancer that had spread to secondary sites in the body—not an uncommon condition, of course—would find themselves being treated with SABR for one cancer in one hospital, and for the secondary cancer in a hospital over 100 miles away.
For the past five years, NHS policy on purchasing advanced radiotherapy machines has been to buy the cheapest conventional machines that can do a little bit of advanced work, and as a consequence we have cancer centres dotted around the country that can treat one cancer but not another, or that, because of their limited technology, treat fewer than the minimum number of 25 SABR patients required to maintain their accreditation. With the growth of SABR treatment, that approach to SABR technology is plainly a false economy. In the long run, it costs the NHS more and means that patients receive much more radiation than is needed, which is clearly not good for them.
While SABR is used to treat cancers outside the brain, stereotactic radiosurgery—SRS—is the global standard when it comes to treating brain tumours with radiotherapy. The use of the technique was increasing year on year up to 2013, but that was brought to a crashing halt when the health reforms were brought in and NHS England came into being. To justify the suppression of SRS treatment two years ago, NHS England ordered an SRS review. I remind the Minister that that review has yet to be completed; it is turning into the longest radiotherapy review in history. Meanwhile, patients are being denied treatment with the most modern SRS machines at the hospitals of their choice—for example, University College London hospitals—and are being sent elsewhere.
I do not wish to be too parochial, but the lack of provision of SABR and SRS in the north of England is a scandal. Outside Leeds and Sheffield, the north is something of a wasteland. According to NHS England’s own figures, there is no provision at all in the north-east—my region. The suppression of SRS is yet another false economy by NHS England. The most obvious reason why it is a false economy is that a non-invasive treatment, overwhelmingly given on an out-patient basis—patients come in for the day, get treated and go home—is hugely advantageous.
Five years ago the national radiotherapy implementation group said that what was needed were centres of excellence around the country to provide advanced stereotactic radiotherapy to our cancer patients. Detailed work has been carried out, and, as has been proven in other countries, it is improving the way we treat cancer patients with radiation, and we have finally started to make some progress with this next generation treatment in the UK. With the right equipment in the right place, we could do so much better, so will the Secretary of State order an independent assessment of the benefits of having one designated stereotactic centre of excellence in each English region, and of what would be the most appropriate technology to equip them with in order to treat the greatest number of patients and the greatest number of cancers?