As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on behalf of the Opposition on Cancer Treatments. The debate followed the moving House of Lords debate led by Baroness Tessa Jowell, who was diagnosed with a high grade brain tumour, glioblastoma. You can read Tessa's speech in the Lords here.
In her speech, Sharon spoke about how she works with her cross-party colleagues on both the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ovarian Cancer and the APPG on Breast Cancer, which Sharon Chairs and Co-Chairs respectively. Sharon echoed her colleagues calls for increased funding for brain tumour research, increased access to clinical trials and data sharing.
You can read the full debate here: Cancer Treatments
You can watch Sharon's speech on Parliament TV here: Cancer Treatments
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a genuine pleasure to be speaking in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. Indeed, I am speaking in this Chamber for the second time today. Both debates have been on very important issues.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for securing the debate, and for her very moving and emotional speech. I also want to thank the other hon. Members who have spoken in this excellent debate: the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who moved us all to tears, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). They all made excellent contributions. Members throughout the House have been visibly moved by the moving testimonies we have heard.
As has been said, no one in the House or in the country escapes being touched at some time in their life by cancer. I lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer 21 years ago. That was one of the reasons why I joined the all-party group on breast cancer and work with it to this day. I thank the Secretary of State for being here. I am very pleased to see him back in place. I know that Tessa and others will be very grateful for his attendance, and for the personal and moving tribute he gave earlier. I also thank the shadow Secretary of State, who also made a personal tribute to Tessa.
I pay enormous tribute to our very good friend and colleague from the other place, Tessa, for her bravery and determination, and for the outstanding speech she gave in the other place. That was another occasion when people were visibly moved to tears, not just in the other place but across the country as it ran on the news all day. She is as much an inspiration now as she has always been throughout her political career. In 1997, as we have heard, she became the first Public Health Minister—she is a predecessor of the Minister who will be responding today. With the then Secretary of State for Education, Lord Blunkett, she set out to build Sure Start, the early years programme of which she should be immensely proud. It has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of children across the country and been a lifeline for parents, some of whom have said that without it they do not think they would even be here today.
I am enormously proud to have played, in a very small way, a part in continuing the fight for early years provision over 20 years on. When I became shadow Children’s Minister, Tessa’s personal support, advice and guidance were invaluable in helping me fight to protect the legacy she had built. I remember one particular conversation when she said that she had told her officials that she wanted to walk into a Sure Start children’s centre and be able to smell the babies, so she would know the centres were being used and that lives were being changed.
Tessa’s optimism and ambition has affected us all over the years, especially in the run-up to, and in the aftermath of, the 2012 London Olympics, which, as we heard in detail, she secured as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Even since her diagnosis, Tessa continues to inspire us all with her hard work and determination. I wish her all the love in the world, and I really look forward to joining her a little later with her friends and family for a get-together.
As Tessa said in the other place:
“Today…is not about politics but about patients”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1169.]
I know from my work over many years chairing or co-chairing two cancer all-party groups that we can and do work together when it comes to tackling cancer. The Minister and I co-chaired the all-party group on breast cancer, along with the former hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Dame Annette Brooke. I am still vice-chair of that all-party group, and I pay tribute to my fellow officers for continuing their hard work in the group to raise awareness in Parliament of breast cancer.
I also chair the all-party group on ovarian cancer. Observant Members may have noticed that there is always some cancer campaign going on, and last month it was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For the first time, the all-party group hosted a drop-in photo call, challenging MPs and peers to be a “teal hero”. This included wearing a superhero mask and a cape—I do not know whether the Minister came along and managed to get caught—to raise awareness among our constituents of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. I am sad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who lost his mum to ovarian cancer when he was a teenager, came along and, complete with a superhero pose, pipped me to the post for “best picture”. I hope that colleagues will join me again next year—I will be looking out for the Minister. Although it was fun, it was for a very important purpose: to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Finally in this regard, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for his sterling work as chair of the all-party group on cancer, which regularly unites all the cancer charities and all-party groups in debates and in work throughout the year, and most notably at the Britain Against Cancer conference every December. All-party groups and the many other cancer groups are the perfect example of how cancer is not about politics. I believe that we have seen that exemplified in its best form in the House today, and that in future we can put our politics aside for Tessa and for all cancer patients and truly fight cancer together.
Around 11,400 people were diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in 2015 in the UK. That includes the approximately 470 children under the age of 15 who are diagnosed with a brain or related tumour in Britain each year. I also commend HeadSmart for the work that it does to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children. Brain tumours are the largest single cause of death from cancer in adults under the age of 40, and the most common type of solid tumour in children.
There are, of course, challenges to brain tumour research that limit progress in developing innovative treatments. As we have heard, brain tumour research in the UK has been grossly underfunded, with just 1% of the national spend on cancer research being allocated to this devastating disease. That is why the recent announcement that £45 million would be invested in brain tumour research was so very welcome. I hope that some of the funding will be used to create opportunities for collaboration so that research and data can be shared around the world, because there are real and concerning gaps in the research workforce, both at a senior level and in the number of junior researchers entering the field.
There is also insufficient infrastructure for brain research, and the research community is fragmented, with no clear hubs of excellence and limited opportunities for collaboration. We need to address those challenges for the sake of patients and their families so that we can improve the lives of those living with a brain tumour. One way to do that is to ensure that all brain tumour patients are invited to participate in clinical trials, which can lead to significant improvements in survival and quality of life for future patients diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, despite the clear correlation between greater research and improved outcomes, only 3% of people with a brain tumour take part in a clinical trial. That compares with 7% across all cancers, so what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that brain tumour patients are entered into clinical trials?
In June 2017, the Brain Tumour Charity conducted a survey that found that 97% of those with a brain tumour said that they would be happy to share their medical data to help to accelerate research. As we have heard, Tessa has made the historic decision to be the first patient to consent to sharing her data in the hope that her cancer journey can contribute to new cures that alleviate future suffering. Let me again take the opportunity to commend her for her selflessness. I know that where she leads, others will naturally follow.
For Tessa, the Olympic legacy and Sure Start are just two of many legacies to be proud of, but I think that this legacy will be even greater in its reach and importance. For that, we once again thank you, Tessa.