Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie). It is a pleasure to have him here, although it is obviously a pity that the Labour party candidate did not win. However, for me, as the last by-election victor, it will be a pleasure not to be known as, "Jim Devine, the new Labour MP for Livingston".
Mrs. Hodgson: I must continue with the happy tone by congratulating the Government on their fantastic record of investment in cancer services, especially the first cancer plan, which we have discussed. It was published in 2000[Interruption.] I see that some of the Liberal Democrats are leaving now. The plan has meant that more funding than ever has been pumped into cancer servicesan extra £280 million in 200102, increasing to £570 million in 200304. I do not have the most recent figure but I am sure that it is even higher.
I must also draw attention to our fantastic record on waiting times, which have been reduced to two weeks to be seen by a specialist, a month for diagnosis and two months for treatment. That cannot go without recognition in the debate.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, as a new Member, will be asked in what he will specialise. I gave many answers to that question as the weeks went on. I had no idea in what I would specialise, although I had many interests and many important matters came my way. However, the decision was taken out of my hands when my best friend, Joanne Smith, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. At the time, she had a two-year-old and a seven-year-old, who are now a little olderone has had a birthday since thenbut she was a young woman with a young family. The diagnosis was a tragedy, which has totally coloured my first year as a Member of Parliament.
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Joanne was seen within 48 hours by a cancer specialist at my local hospital, the Queen Elizabeth hospital. Her consultant, Dr. Clark, has been incredible and her treatment has been fantastic. She had a double mastectomy and a terrible course of chemotherapy, which debilitated her. Nobody goes through chemotherapy lightly, but because she was so young she had to have such a high dose that it was shocking to see her suffer through it.
I immediately began campaigning for herceptin and joined the all-party group that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) mentioned earlier. I was keen to get my local cancer networkthe northern cancer networkto reverse its decision not to prescribe herceptin. It made the decision because the drug did not have National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance. However, after campaigns by me and other hon. Members throughout the country and the region, the decision was reversed. When I asked why the network had reversed it, it cited the comments by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that lack of NICE guidance should not be an excuse for not prescribing the drug and that it was up to individual PCTs.
The PCTs in my area recognise that they have the freedom to make such decisions, but they do not do that in practice because they defer to the northern cancer network. When one questions the northern cancer network, one finds that it defers to NICE guidance. So, although individual PCTs can make these decisions, in practice they do not.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Is the hon. Lady aware that the "Herceptin for Shropshire" campaign was launched in the Shropshire County primary care trust area today, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) mentioned earlier? The campaign is being led by a number of ladies in similar circumstances to those of the hon. Lady's friend, who have a particular reason to secure that support. It is important that they should continue to press the PCT to secure the funding, because, as the Secretary of State has said, she is prepared to allow it to take place.
Mrs. Hodgson: I have some ideas on funding, and I want to open up a debate on that whole issue. I shall come to that in a moment. We just have to keep pressing the individual PCTs and reminding them that they have the ability to take these decisions, regardless of the budgetary pressures that they are under. We are pumping in lots of money for cancer services, and they must spend it wisely. However, I am told that they often choose to spend money that they had allocated for cancer services on other equally pressing things. It is up to everyone involved in this debate to insist that that money is spent on cancer treatment.
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD):
The hon. Lady has touched on the issue of funding. Is she aware that many people who suspect that they might have cancer are having to go privately to get diagnostic scans, because their GPs are so hesitant to spend their money on scans? The GPs are telling them that they have to go down other routes, such as consulting nutritionists or osteopaths, rather than sending them directly for a scan
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diagnosis. I am told that, in my area, only 40 per cent. of such patients are referred for a scan by their GP, because of funding issues.
My campaign with my friend got a lot of press interest, and the northern cancer network reversed its decision, on which I congratulate it. My friend started her herceptin treatment two weeks ago. She is one of the first people in the region to receive it.
I want to talk briefly about brain tumours, which relates to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, whose predecessor, Rachel Squire, sadly died after suffering from a brain tumour. Some other famous people who have suffered from brain tumours are Bob Marley, Elizabeth Taylor, Mo Mowlam and Sir Stamford Raffles. Such tumours account for one death in every 100. Someone who is not as famous as those people is a constituent of mine who is quite dear to my heart. His name is Fred Fergus, and I have been campaigning on his behalf for access to the drug temozolomide, which is awaiting NICE's approval. We were told that that would be decided by the end of the year, but I recently received some information on an appraisal consultation documentan ACDput out by NICE. Apparently, NICE is recommending that the therapy should not be provided on a subsidised basis on the NHS in England and Wales for patients with newly diagnosed, high-grade malignant brain tumours. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House why.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): My hon. Friend has been involved in two campaigns. I was involved in one in Redcar relating to a drug called alimta, which has been licensed but not NICE-ed, as it were. It is used to treat mesothelioma, which is a terminal illness. NICE was not even going to evaluate it until October 2007, but that was useless for the men suffering from the disease who had only months to live. However, NICE is now introducing a fast-track procedure. When the Minister responds to the debate, will she tell the House whether it is intended that all cancer drugs should go through that procedure?
Mr. Fergus is receiving his radiotherapy on the NHS and paying privately for a prescription of temozolomide. He says that it has given him his life back. There has been such a change in him in terms of memory since he has had access to the drug. Obviously, brain tumours affect the brain and memory, but with this drug he can function so much better, which is why I am so concerned about NICE perhaps not approving it.
I want to move on to another very sad case involving a bowel cancer sufferer. Bowel cancer is responsible for 50 deaths a day in the UK, and it claimed the life of my constituent, Jack Wilson, at the age of 66. He was a retired miner who was hoping to get the drug cetuximab on the NHS. Again, he was told that the drug was not approved. I have already mentioned the northern cancer network and the process we go through there.
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I am short of time, so I should say that I want an urgent review of the funding of cancer treatments. As the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) said, there will be another drug, then another and another. More and more are on the horizon and we will have to try to fund them. Taxpayers are entitled to receive the best possible treatment and value for money from the NHS, so we need to examine how such treatments can be financed while retaining the tax base of the NHS and the principle that health care should be free at the point of need.
There is a specific problem with funding drug treatmentsthe hon. Gentleman also mentioned thiswhile they are licensed but before they are NICE approved. There is a strong case for a dedicated cancer charity that would fund specific cancer drugs during that interim period. Also, there should perhaps be a dedicated lottery card. I shall leave those thoughts with the Minister.