HC Deb 05 December 1995 vol 268 cc127-8
5. Mr. Gunnell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on his Department's progress towards the use of specialist breast units for the treatment of breast cancer. [2176]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowls)

The Calman report forms the basis of our strategy for the development of cancer services. We have charged regional directors with the task of taking that forward and, where necessary, reconfiguring services to treat common cancers, including breast cancer, in specialised units.

Mr. Gunnell

Given that the Calman report regarded as urgent the move to specialist breast cancer care units, which was endorsed by the Health Select Committee report, is sufficient urgency being shown by the Department? I think not. Is not it important that the Government move rapidly to establish a network of such units, so that the fears that haunt many women in this country can be allayed by the provision of prompt, effective and thorough treatment in every area? Is not that absolutely necessary? Why are the Government so dilatory in moving to that position?

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Gentleman is uncharacteristically ungenerous in not acknowledging the work being done by the NHS. Calman reported only in April, since when regional offices have been working on the recommendations. Calman set out a structure of primary care refering to cancer units for diagnosis and treatment and cancer centres at which rarer types of cancer—and particular specialist services, such as radiotherapy—would be available. The hon. Gentleman needs only to look in his own back yard. The United Leeds teaching hospitals have developed fine services that include a specialist unit. That is the way forward for Leeds, and the hon. Gentleman might have paid tribute to that development. We are looking to see how to develop services throughout the country for the benefit of patients.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Royal Marsden hospital in Sutton, in my constituency, which offers an excellent breast cancer service with particular expertise in early detection and palliative care? Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the extra budget allocated by the Chancellor should go to that superb service?

Mr. Bowis

I am happy to pay tribute to the Royal Marsden, and I was able to do so yesterday because I was at the Queen Elizabeth II centre when it received a charter mark award. I congratulate the hospital publicly again today. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the resources that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has negotiated with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—£1.3 billion more for the coming year; a 1.6 per cent. increase in real terms. I have no doubt that some of those resources will lead to further improvements in our cancer services.

Mr. McLeish

In view of the concern about high mortality rates for breast cancer, will the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to ensuring that a reduction in the mortality rate for breast cancer is a key part of the "Health of the Nation" strategy? Will he also confirm that he is satisfied with the progress that is being made to achieve the target of a 25 per cent. reduction by 2000? Will the Minister outline what steps he has taken to monitor progress at the district health authority level; and does he agree that the development and publication of local targets at DHA level is vital if the "Health of the Nation" strategy is to mean anything?

Mr. Bowis

There were about five questions there. I have already announced that our regional offices will examine the configuration of services, and will build on that. Of course we stand by our "Health of the Nation" targets. Progress has been made, and we want to see more. That is why we are developing services; why we are investing in services; and why much research is being done. I pay tribute to the range of research conducted by Government and by the voluntary sector and pharmaceutical companies.