On Thursday 8th December, there will be a debate in the main chamber to discuss progress with the England Cancer Strategy.
The debate serves as a timely and important opportunity to discuss cancer services in the NHS today. Whilst progress has been made, there are areas where it is important to have more detail on implementation plans if the Cancer Strategy’s ambitious aim to save an additional 30,000 lives a year by 2020 is to be realised.
‘Achieving world-class cancer outcomes: a strategy for England 2015-2020.’ set out to “improve survival rates and save lives”. I welcome plans to improve diagnosis and pathways for cancer treatments but I remain concerned that the opportunity to maximise the role of prevention has been seriously overlooked, and with it the opportunity to reduce incidence rates, save the NHS costs and improve people’s quality of life.
By the end of this Parliament, around one in every two people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. However, improvements in diagnosing and treating the disease mean that more people are surviving it, or living for longer with it, and consequently we have 2.5 million people living with or beyond cancer in the UK today.
Yet not all of these people are living well with many experiencing the physical, emotional and financial consequences of treatment. Around one in four people living with or beyond cancer face disability or poor health following their treatment and this can remain the case for many years after treatment has ended. It is vital they are able to access the best care that is right for them when they need it, and to ensure that the NHS is set up to meet the changing needs of cancer patients.
Not only would this increase the quality and experience of survival, it would ensure that resources invested in the disease are done in the most efficient way; this is key with Five Year Forward View projections indicating that expenditure on cancer services will need to grow by about 9% a year, reaching £13 billion by 2020/21.
Alongside the physical and emotional impacts most commonly associated with cancer, it also brings with it a real risk of financial hardship. Four out of five people with cancer are impacted financially by their diagnosis, as extra costs rise whilst having to stop work or reduce hours. This leaves people, on average, £570 a month worse off and every year 400,000 people in the UK with cancer struggle to pay their household bills as a result of their diagnosis.
The Government must ensure people affected by cancer can access the support they need from the welfare system. I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment not to seek further welfare savings over the course of this Parliament: it is vital that people affected by cancer can access the support they need. However, despite this commitment, there are still proposed changes to the welfare system which we are concerned could leave people with cancer without crucial financial support at a time when they need it – such as proposals to devolve Attendance Allowance, a vital benefit for people aged 65 and over, to local authorities.
The consultation on the proposals closed on 26 September 2016, but the Government have not yet released their response to say whether they plan to go ahead with the plans. I am concerned that moves to devolve the benefit could make it harder for people living with cancer to access the financial support they need, and to ensure they can live independently.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK; it effects 1 in 8 women and it is estimated that over 500,000 are now living with the disease. For diseases like breast cancer, where incidence rates are alarmingly high, prevention is an urgent priority. But ambitious action for prevention is not adequately reflected in the Cancer Strategy.
Whilst the Strategy includes a limited set of targets on lifestyle risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity, it does not address other key risk factors, such as environmental pollution or exposure to harmful chemicals.
NHS England has also said it will spend £130m upgrading or replacing radiotherapy machines to improve the survival chances of hundreds of thousands of patients.
The upgrade of at least 100 linear accelerator (Linac) machines across the country will ensure more patients get state-of-the-art treatment called intensity-modulated radiotherapy, which can target the tumour very precisely without damaging surrounding healthy tissue. New machines are more accurate and can deliver a higher dose to the cancer cells, which will reduce the amount of time a patient has to spend in radiotherapy and hopefully increase cure rates.
Radiotherapy is an important part of cancer treatment, after surgery to remove the tumour, and cures more people than cancer drugs. The Linac machines used to deliver it are supposed to be replaced after 10 years, but 20% of them in England are older than that. A third of all radiotherapy machines (aprox. 90) will need replacing by next year and I intend on making sure the Government commits to their promise to fund this on a national scale.