HC Deb 19 October 1999 vol 336 cc243-4
6. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

What investment his Department is making in services to combat cancer of the bowel. [92589]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper)

We have invested £20 million in colorectal cancer services to improve access to diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, £10 million is being made available to support the two-week waiting time standard for all patients urgently referred with suspected cancer. The £93 million in England from the new opportunities fund will buy additional and replacement equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of all cancers.

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend will know that, in far too many cases, cancer of the bowel is detected far too late. What can we do to encourage earlier diagnosis of cancer of the bowel to ensure that action will be taken speedily? What action can we take to ensure that the survival rate is the same across the United Kingdom, so that there are not survival black spots in some parts of the country?

Yvette Cooper

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Screening can be effective in promoting the early diagnosis of other cancers. Pilot studies for colorectal screening were announced in March in order to see whether a national programme would be feasible or acceptable. My hon. Friend is also right that it is outrageous that people from low-income areas are more likely to die of cancer. That is unacceptable. The Government are prioritising cancer not just because it is one of the biggest killers in the country, but because it lies at the heart of deep-rooted inequalities in Britain.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

In welcoming the steps taken to advance cancer care, I urge the Minister to ensure that more money is spent on drawing the attention of the public to the fact that they could take greater care in detecting things and by going to the doctor sooner. Is there collaboration in England—similar to that involving City, Belfast and Johns Hopkins hospitals—to bring centres of excellence together to combat this scourge?

Yvette Cooper

I am encouraged by the centre of excellence that the hon. Gentleman describes. The matter is a huge priority for the Government. We are working with organisations across the country on a strategy that will look not simply at cure but at prevention and the action that individuals can take to improve their health. One of our most important acts in that regard is to ban tobacco advertising from this country.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

I deeply welcome the sharper focus on cancer care and coronary disease, although there has been some press speculation—probably idle—that some of the extra resources will be at the expense of public health initiatives. Will the Minister assure the House that there will be no dilution of public health initiatives that are aimed at preventing those diseases?

Yvette Cooper

I can do that. In fact, the reverse is true: we are making cancer and heart disease a priority, although public health must be at the forefront of tackling those diseases. It is not simply about what happens in hospitals, but about what happens in every household in every street in this country.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

I welcome any increased targeting on cancer, although the task is a difficult one that cannot be achieved by gimmicks, soundbites or the sort of double accounting that we have seen from the Government recently which has been worthy of the Home Secretary himself. There is a difficulty with the cancer pledge that I would like the Minister to address. In gynaecology, it would be ridiculous to refer every woman with post-menopausal bleeding. Likewise, it would be impossible to refer everyone with altered bowel habits simply because they may have cancer. What level of clinical suspicion is required to meet the time pledge, and what guidelines have been issued to GPs throughout the country?

Yvette Cooper

We are working with GPs on the guidelines to ensure that referral takes place properly and according to appropriate clinical priorities, as it is a matter of clinical judgment for the doctors involved. It is a bit rich to be lectured on clinical priorities by a shadow spokesperson who believes that we should be encouraging more private insurance at the expense of the NHS and that we should be shunting people into private health care instead. I can think of no greater distortion of clinical priorities than rationing treatment according to how much people can afford to pay.