HC Deb 10 April 2001 vol 366 cc833-5
3. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

What major capital investments in cancer treatment facilities have been made in the last two years. [156285]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

Some £95 million from the new opportunities fund and £100 million of NHS resources are being invested in cancer treatment facilities, and 56 new linear accelerators, 95 new CT scanners and 35 MRI scanners have now been allocated across the health service.

Mr. Pike

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will be aware of the announcement last week of the additional resources for the Royal Preston hospital, which will ensure that the facilities in that hospital can meet the needs of the people of Lancashire. We welcome that, but can he assure us that that hospital will be able to meet the needs of all the people in Lancashire in the future and supplement the facilities that have been traditionally provided at the Christie hospital in Manchester?

Mr. Milburn

There is a very important role for both hospitals, and it is extremely important that we invest in more equipment and staff in those cancer services and, indeed, in greater prevention of cancer in the first place. As my hon. Friend is well aware, after decades of the shameful neglect of cancer services, the investment is now being made. It is worth my hon. Friend's reminding his constituents in the weeks to come that, under the previous Government, not a single penny was earmarked for cancer services funding, but under this Government in this financial year £280 million extra will be invested in modernising cancer services.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Is the Secretary of State convinced that the NHS has yet got the balance right between surgical and chemical or radiotherapy cancer treatments? Is he aware that this country has pioneered the microsurgical treatment of cancer, which increased survival rates and reduced the complications and indignities suffered by patients when it was adopted and disseminated abroad? Why is not more effort being put into disseminating those skills throughout the NHS?

Mr. Milburn

With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, a big effort is being made to ensure that not only chemotherapy and improved radiography services and so on are available, but that more surgical options are available to cancer patients. As he is aware, during the past year or so, we have made great strides in ensuring that, although all the problems have not been solved, there is at least progress on the waiting times that cancer patients have to endure for initial outpatient appointments. We set a target for patients to be seen within a fortnight. Thankfully, about 100,000 women with suspected breast cancer have now been seen within a matter of weeks, rather than months, which was the situation previously, and they go on to a variety of treatments, including surgery.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we must get the balance right, but to do so we must ensure that the investment is sustained. If he is as concerned as he says he is about those issues, he might have a word with his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench to remind them that watching Labour's health funding for the NHS is an important priority for his party.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I welcome the investment in cancer treatment, but, as my right hon. Friend will be aware, mesothelioma is a particularly nasty form of cancer, caused by exposure to asbestos. This year, there have been 1,500 deaths from mesothelioma, and Professor Peto's forecast is that that will rise considerably and peak in about 2010 or 2020. He will also be aware that the Macmillan foundation is training a network of nurses to provide care for people suffering from mesothelioma, but there is a need in the initial stages for an information line. Will he consider how an information line may be set up and co-ordinated in the first stages to support that network of nurses?

Mr. Milburn

If my hon. Friend cares to write to me with his suggestions. I will gladly consider them. He also made an important broader point, which is that inevitably in the NHS service we often focus on how we can improve treatment services. However, as we all know, a huge number of deaths from illnesses such as cancer and coronary heart disease are preventable by action in the workplace and by tackling such things as smoking. We are committed to such preventive action, and it will be worth my hon. Friend's reminding his constituents that while the Government are backing measures that mean that fewer people will smoke in future, most notably by a ban on tobacco advertising, the Conservative party, despite its warm words, refuses to back such a ban.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Labour's manifesto at the last general election pledged to end waiting for cancer surgery. Does the Secretary of State consider the pledge to have been met?

Mr. Milburn

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we set a target for reducing—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman can wait before asking another question, he will get an answer to the first. We set a target for reducing the time that it takes to get people with suspected cancer into hospital. I am pleased to say that between 95 and 97 per cent. of women with suspected breast cancer are now being seen within a fortnight. We have set additional targets for people to be seen within a fortnight for all forms of suspected cancer, including lung and prostate cancer. As a consequence, we are reducing the waiting times for all forms of cancer treatment.