As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the progress on the implementation of the Cancer Strategy for England. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to improve preventative measures, especially around smoking and obesity, which are seen as two of the most preventable contributors to cancer, and also issues around workforce capacity and capability.
You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Cancer Strategy Backbench Business Debate 08.12.16
Speech pasted below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome this very important debate, which was secured by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and others. Although he is, uncharacteristically, not in his place, for very important reasons—we all send him and his wife our very best wishes—I want to place on the record that this House and, indeed, the whole country owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all that he does on the issue and for his sterling leadership as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer in aiding our work in fighting this terrible disease.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who opened the debate. Like me and several others, he is a chair of an all-party group on cancer; his group is on pancreatic cancer. He works tirelessly on this issue, and he chaired the “Britain against cancer” conference with aplomb this week. He set the scene today so well, and his knowledge and passion shone through.
I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate: the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris)—the hon. Lady is also the chair of a cancer all-party group—the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my very good friend the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is also vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, of which I am a co-chair. They all made excellent contributions, and each and every one has made some important points about where we need to go next with the cancer strategy.
Much of the debate has focused on the report published by the all-party group on cancer, which looked at the progress made in implementing the cancer strategy one year on from its publication. The report makes many valid points and recommendations, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on the specifics mentioned in it. The strategy can go a long way towards helping some of the estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer and the people who are diagnosed each year with cancer. The strategy, if implemented in full, could save 30,000 more lives per year by 2020.
That should be paired with the deeply worrying news that broke at the beginning of November that more than 130,000 patients a year have not been receiving cancer treatment on time, because cancer patients did not see a cancer specialist within the required 14 days. In some areas, the problem was so severe that more than 6,000 patients were forced to wait 104 days or more. In addition, our findings show that the Government met their 62-day target only once in the last 20 months. That should drive the Government to do more, and it is clear that we are seeing issues around the transformations already. That should not be knocked, and I am certainly not knocking it, but we must all continue to hold the Government to account where we can.
That is why in my contribution I want to touch on two areas: improvement in preventive measures that can help to reduce the occurrence of cancer, and the significant concerns that have recently been raised regarding the cancer workforce. We can all agree that prevention is key to addressing many health conditions, illnesses and diseases, and cancer is no different. As we have heard from several hon. Members in this debate, four in 10 cancers are preventable, and we should be doing much more to prevent cancers from developing, especially those that could have been prevented by lifestyle changes. Prevention was a central pillar of the cancer strategy, along with the five-year forward view.
The Minister is surely prepared for what I am going to say next, because I have said it to him often enough in my short time as the shadow Minister with responsibility for public health. It remains true, sadly. The false economy of cutting public health funding with no assessment of the ramifications of doing so on various aspects of our lives, or on other parts of the NHS and the wider health service, is seriously worrying. According to data collected by the Association of Directors of Public Health, smoking cessation services are expected to be reduced by 61% in 2016-17, with 5% of services completely decommissioned. For weight management support there will be a 52% reduction, with 12% being decommissioned. That is damning information when smoking and obesity are, as we have heard, two of the biggest preventable causes of cancer. We know that 100,000 people are dying each year from smoking-related diseases, including cancer.
It is right that the cancer strategy strongly recommended the introduction of a new tobacco control plan post haste and an ambitious plan for a smoke-free society by 2035, as has been outlined. We still have not seen the plan, despite being promised repeatedly over the last year that we would. I am sure that the Minister will give us further information on that in his response, and we all look forward to it. I hope that we see that plan sooner rather than later, and that hope has been echoed by several hon. Members from both sides of the House.
A continued delay will never be beneficial for our shared vision of a smoke-free society or for preventing cancer from happening. Another plan we have finally seen, although it has been considerably watered down, is the one for childhood obesity. After smoking, it is understood that obesity is the next biggest preventable cause of cancer. If we allow current trends to continue, there could be more than 670,000 additional cases of cancer by 2035. This completely goes against the vision set out in the cancer strategy. We saw some of the detail of the sugary drinks levy earlier this week, and it will be interesting to see how this develops in the months ahead, but I hope the Minister can outline a little bit more about what else he and his colleagues plan to do on obesity and its links to cancer.
As part of the cancer strategy, a review of the current workforce was called for so that we could fully understand the shortfalls—the areas of investment needed and the gaps in the training of new and existing NHS staff—and meet the ambitious and noble goals set out in the strategy. In my capacity as chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer and co-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, I along with colleagues from both sides of the House—some of them are in the Chamber, notably the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, who is a vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer—raised this at the beginning of the year with Health Education England, which is conducting the review. In our letter, we raised the need for immediate solutions to fill the specialist gaps in our cancer workforce, but also the need for a strategic, longer-term solution to be put in place.
The issue of the cancer workforce is an incredibly important one, especially given that Cancer Research UK warned over two weeks ago that pathology services in the UK were at a tipping point, and that the Royal College of Radiologists warned earlier in the year that 25% of NHS breast screening programmes were understaffed, with 13% of consultant breast radiologist posts left vacant, a figure that has doubled since 2010. That should spur on the Department to push ahead on the workforce issues that have been raised so often with Ministers.
Only this July, organisations such as Macmillan and Cancer Research UK joined with other organisations to call for a set of principles to be taken up by the Government, including a review of the current and future workforce. The Minister should also heed the words of Dr Harpal Kumar, who during an oral evidence session for the inquiry by the all-party group on cancer into progress on the implementation of the review, said that workforce issues remained “significant and severe”.
The ageing population, which means that more and more people could be diagnosed with cancer, and the much welcomed push to improve earlier diagnosis of cancer mean that pressures on the workforce will rise if the right support is not found, especially given the projection that 500,000 Britons will be diagnosed with cancer by 2035. That should remain at the forefront of the Minister’s mind, and in the minds of his officials and those who deal with workforce capacity.
It is clear that investment is failing to keep up with demand. That was raised in the cancer strategy, which called on NHS England to invest to unlock the extra capacity we need to meet the higher levels of cancer testing. The Opposition support the calls made only a few short months ago by the national cancer advisory group for NHS England’s cancer transformation board to prioritise a focus on the cancer workforce in the coming months. I hope the Minister will ensure that that happens, and that when we come back from the Christmas recess, we will start to see the much needed progress that has been called for.
In conclusion, the work that has started on the transformative programme is to be welcomed. It is a large task to undertake, yet the Government will not be allowed to sit back; I know that they and the Minister will not do so. It is up to all of us in this House, along with many people outside this place, to continue to do all we can to hold the Minister and the Government to account on what are such important and personal matters for all of us who have been affected by cancer, be it personally or through family and friends. We must all be critical friends in this drive to fight off cancer once and for all. We all agree that cancer should be at the top of our list of health priorities. It is so destructive, and, very sadly, it will affect us all in some way. We must ensure that we get this right, because we cannot afford to get it wrong.