HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc649-51
1. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

What action he is taking to reduce the waiting time for radiotherapy treatment following cancer surgery. [135967]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson)

We are increasing the numbers of therapy radiographers in post and in training, making better use of existing staff, making unprecedented investment in new radiotherapy equipment, and streamlining the patient journey.

Mrs. Campbell

May I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on the 10 per cent. reduction in cancer mortality, which is very good news for all cancer patients? In January 2002, when I last asked a question about this issue, I was told that one way of coping with the shortage of radiographers was by using assistant practitioners who are not fully trained as proper radiographers, but can do some of the work. Can my hon. Friend give me any news on how that pilot scheme is going and on whether assistant practitioners will be in general use from now on?

Miss Johnson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her congratulations on the 10 per cent. reduction, which is in large measure the result not only of a lot of work by staff in the health service, but of the £570 million of extra investment that is going into cancer care.

On assistant practitioners, my hon. Friend probably knows that her local hospital, Addenbrooke's, has two fully-qualified assistant radiography practitioners in post and three in training, and plans to take on four more next year. I am sure that she is aware that such good practice is being spread across the NHS through the cancer networks and cancer services collaboratives.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

The Minister is of course right that the number of radiographers employed in the NHS has increased, but may I gently suggest that her response is a little complacent? The three-month vacancy rate for radiographers has risen every single year since the data have been collected—now, at 10.7 per cent., it is the highest vacancy rate of any personnel category in the NHS. is the hon. Lady aware that, in west Kent, in my constituency, it is running at 19.6 per cent? Is not the reality that the growth in demand for technologically advanced radiographers is far outstripping the rate of increase in radiographers coming on supply, and that the result will inevitably be an increase in waiting lists?

Miss Johnson

I think that the hon. Gentleman is drawing the wrong conclusion from the data that he advances. Since 1997, we have increased the number of radiographers in post by 10 per cent. from 1,407 to 1,542, and doubled the number of therapy radiographer training places. As a result, many more are coming to serve in the NHS, as I indicated in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). I think the hon. Gentleman is mistaken: what he is doing is drawing a conclusion about the vacancy levels that is partly based on the fact that there are now more posts and more equipment is coming on stream. We are not complacent, however, and he should understand that we are doing all that we can to ensure that all those posts are filled. Were his party to be in power, it would be extraordinarily difficult to make the investment that we are making, because there would be a 20 per cent. Cut—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Michael Clapham.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The extra money that the Government have put into cancer treatment is bringing about great improvements, but there has been little improvement in one particular type of cancer—mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos. There are reports that treatments have been developed in Australia and America. Will my hon. Friend cause inquiries to be made into the kind of treatment that is being offered, with a view to drawing up a plan for mesothelioma sufferers here?

Miss Johnson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he has taken a particular interest in this subject for many years, and I commend him for his persistence in pursuing the case with us on every occasion. I certainly undertake to look into the points that he raised and to write to him or meet him to discuss them further.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

May I urge the Minister to reconsider the so-called ambulatory model for radiotherapy that is being forced on the cancer centre in my constituency? Is she aware that that process has never been successfully used in this country in any cancer centre, and that it is vehemently opposed by all the clinicians in the Kent and Canterbury cancer centre? Is it not the case that that will to all intents and purposes amount to its closure as a true cancer centre, and that it will simply become a satellite working on an untested model?

Miss Johnson

I will of course look into the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I must evince some scepticism about this. We have made a £570 million extra investment in cancer care, cut premature deaths by 10 per cent. and achieved a 30 per cent. increase in the number of cancer consultants in the service. That does not square with the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman is making.

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