HC Deb 29 November 1982 vol 33 cc77-8W
Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has yet come to a conclusion on the report on the Royal Marsden hospital early diagnostic unit.

Mr. Fowler

The position is that the Government are currently funding a national research programme into the early diagnosis of breast cancer at a cost of £600,000 a year. Trials involving a quarter of a million women between the ages of 45 and 65 are assessing the effectiveness of screening by mammography and clinical examination and are assessing the feasibility of education in self-examination as an alternative method of early diagnosis.

The trials of mammography and clinical examination are taking place in Guildford and Edinburgh: the self-examination trials are in Huddersfield and Nottingham. Four centres have been established in Avon, Dundee, Oxford and Stoke on Trent to provide comparative information on un-screened populations. Preliminary results should begin to become available by 1986. The programme will continue until 1987 with a follow-up of the study population until 1997.

In addition the Government are also funding a project at Bath to assess the value of thermography in breast cancer screening. This is a ten year project started in 1975 which by 1981 had cost over £400,000.

In its report, the board of governors at the Royal Marsden hospital stated that their major objectives are to pioneer the development of new diagnostic techniques and methods of treatment. I agree with that. But clearly I must also consider the future of the unit itself in the context of national policy.

I do not believe that it would be right to close the unit whilst the trials are still in progress. When the outcome of the trials is known, Ministers will be in a position to make an informed judgment on the need for such a unit. Accordingly, I have decided to provide funds specifically to enable the unit to continue functioning until results from the national trials are available. At present the unit costs £155,000 a year and the Government will support it until at least 1986.

In addition the Department will consider whether the unit can contribute to the national research programme. We will also examine urgently whether it would be practicable for the unit to be relocated nearby as the land at the Royal Marsden is needed by the board of governors. In the meantime the unit will continue to be managed by the board of governors and I am very grateful for its cooperation.