HC Deb 30 June 1998 vol 315 cc146-8
12. Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

What steps he is taking to improve access to breast cancer treatment. [46612]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)

We have made £10 million available for breast cancer services, which is being used to support more than 300 initiatives throughout the country. Particular emphasis has been given to supporting projects that give rapid access to diagnostic services.

Our White Paper sets out a specific target that everyone with suspected cancer will be able to see a specialist within two weeks of urgent referral. That has been guaranteed for breast cancer by April 1999.

Mr. Martlew

I thank the Minister for that and the £140,000 that has been put into Cumbria since October. The Minister may be aware that we have a local difficulty in Carlisle—people who are picked up on the screening system cannot be treated at the Cumberland infirmary. If he is not aware of that, later this week, I will be giving him a 14,000-name petition on the matter, collected by the women of Carlisle.

It would be unfair for the Minister to respond to that matter today because an expert panel is looking into it, but can we look at the scheme nationally and locally? It is for women aged between 50 and 65. There is much concern among women who are over 65 and outside the scheme. When I talk to medical experts and doctors, they say that there is no medical reason for their exclusion. Will the Minister review that policy and, in the meantime, will he give an assurance to those women over 65 that, if they wish to continue to be screened, they will be accommodated by the NHS?

Mr. Boateng

I can give that assurance. We have a number of pilot projects that are looking specifically at the issue of automatic call-back for screening for women over 65, and we will consider the results of those pilot projects in due course. The national programme co-ordinator is, I understand, giving advice to interested parties in his constituency about the screening service for women in Cumbria and I welcome my hon. Friend's interest in and concern about that matter.