HC Deb 23 March 1998 vol 309 cc15-6
15. Dr. Gibson

What steps she is taking to ensure that women receive equality of treatment for ovarian and other cancers throughout the United Kingdom. [34056]

Ms Ruddock

The Ministers for Women are deeply concerned about women's health and are routinely in contact with colleagues at the Department of Health. I am aware of a recent parliamentary meeting on ovarian cancer organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) and concerns that were expressed at that meeting about inequalities of treatment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has set out the Government's intention to improve the consistency of treatment for cancer in our White Paper "The New NHS".

Dr. Gibson

I thank the Minister for that answer. She will be well aware that, each year, 6,000 people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,000 women die from it. Does she agree that clinical treatments should be equalised throughout the country, and that women should be provided with all the clinical options so that they can participate in decision making on the treatment? Does she further agree that, in the national health service, treatment with Taxol is not provided equally across the country, and that that is a sad indictment of the NHS internal market and the high cost of that drug?

Ms Ruddock

Since the meeting that I mentioned, I have raised that issue with the Department of Health. That Department is aware of variations in cancer services, and the availability of drugs such as Taxol is one aspect of that variation. I understand that health authorities and trusts are working to remedy that, but we must leave them some discretion to tackle first what they regard as the most pressing local needs.

People are, however, right to expect broadly similar services wherever they live. The White Paper guarantees that everyone with suspected cancer will be able to see a specialist within two weeks of a request by their GP for an urgent appointment, and that guarantee will apply to those suspected with breast cancer from April 1999, and to all other cases of suspected cancers from the following year.

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