HC Deb 26 April 1994 vol 242 cc96-7
10. Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what funds have been allowed by her Department in each of the last three years to support research into breast cancer.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The Government spent £3.8 million on breast cancer research in 1992–93, of which £3.1 million was through the Medical Research Council. My Department provided £381,000 in 1990–91 for research specifically into breast cancer; £526,000 in 1991–92; and £607,000 in 1992–93—an increase of 59 per cent. over the three years.

Mr. Connarty

I am very disappointed with the answer that I have just received from the Minister. It reeks of complacency in the light of the 26,000 cases that are diagnosed every year and the 16,000 deaths among women in the UK every year. I wonder whether the Secretary of State shares the concern of Professor Baum, who spoke to the all-party group on breast cancer, and said that the incidence of breast cancer in Britain is increasing faster than diagnosis through screening. Does she support his contention that research in molecular biology is the way forward? Is she aware of the £15 million that the Royal Marsden is trying to raise for research into breast cancer? Will she show some seriousness in the matter and put some serious money into the research to help the women who are frightened by the growing incidence of breast cancer in this country?

Mrs. Bottomley

We give extremely high priority to breast cancer, it being the most common form of cancer suffered by women. One in 12 women is likely to develop some form of breast cancer at some stage. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Professor Baum. I received a letter from him only yesterday commending the excellent mammography screening service that takes place in this country and referring to the great improvement in life expectancy, which he—as the hon. Gentleman will understand—was also associating with the need to take forward some of the treatments that he advocates.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is not my right hon. Friend concerned about the high incidence of breast cancer? As one who has recently been screened, I commend her on the screening process and suggest that it be widened, but is she aware that we need to put more resources towards research, because, at the end of the day, that will save the NHS money on treatment costs?

Mrs. Bottomley

I accept my hon. Friend's comments. She may wish to know that 7 per cent. of all expenditure on the health service goes on the treatment of cancer. The screening programme has been a success. Some 70 per cent. of people keep their appointments. I am concerned, as my hon. Friend will be, about the 30 per cent. who are not keeping their appointments. We know that we could do better in picking up cases earlier if only people would keep their appointments. As for research funding, we have to weigh this matter alongside other important priorities.

Dr. Wright

Did the Minister see the recent "Panorama" programme in which many women who were dying of breast cancer described how their impending death would be the result of inadequate clinical treatment in the areas where they lived? Is not it a disgrace that high-quality, specialist treatment is not available to every woman who needs it? Why will not the Government divert their attention from the organisational mayhem that they are causing inside the health service and devote their resources to driving up clinical standards?

Mrs. Bottomley

Frankly, I deplore programmes that seek to generate great alarm unreasonably among members of the public. I know that that is the Labour party's stock in trade, but I nevertheless deplore it.

The standard of treatment for cancers is improving all the time and life expectancy is increasing as a result. However, as we learn from the most beneficial forms of intervention, we need to carry forward good practice. An expert advisory committee reports to the Chief Medical Officer on cancer generally and I hope that we will be able to produce better guidance on cancers that need to be treated at specialist centres and those that can be properly treated at local centres.