Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): I want to present a petition on behalf of the supporters of Newmarket community hospital. It follows a series of meetings and a march of 1,000 people. The petition has identical wording to other CHANT petitions presented tonight, but is also a recognition of the view of the people of Newmarket that closing down facilities in their much-loved community hospital does not add in any way, but quite the reverse, to patient care.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab):
On behalf of Millom community hospital, Mary Hewetson hospital in Keswick, the Maryport Victorian cottage hospital, the Cockermouth cottage hospital and the Workington community hospital, I wish to present petitions in identical terms to those presented earlier. It is a matter of fact that my health area has received an increase in funding of almost 100 per cent. since 1997. Those cottage hospitals are essential to the newly announced £100 million-plus acute hospital in the area. I want to place on record my thanks not only to the leagues of friends of the various hospitals but to Ministers who have helped me with this and other issues relating to the
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health economy in my area, and to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has recently invested £18 million in those hospitals.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I wish to present petitions, in similar terms to those already presented, on behalf of Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Warminster and Westbury community hospitals in my constituency. I do so in the hope that, having noted the Secretary of State's fine words in the White Paper earlier this year in support of community hospitals, she will see fit to act on those words.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I wish to present petitions on behalf of my constituents and the league of friends of Tetbury hospital trust and Fairford hospital. Those hospitals were built with private subscriptions, they have both been open for well over a century, and my constituents ask that the Government honour their election manifesto by supporting and keeping open community hospitals.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I wish to present petitions relating to the Townlands hospital in Henley and, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Chipping Norton War Memorial hospital. I hope that if and when any of the hospitals concerned are reprieved, as they ought to be if the Government stick by their earlier pledges in the House, the whole campaign will stick together and fight on regardless until Townlands and others are safe.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Thomas Archer died in his father's arms on 30 October 2005. Thomas, who lived a few streets away from me in Rugby, was a little over two years old, and died of a brain tumour.
In July last year, Thomas became ill and displayed several symptoms that caused his parents concern, including substantial loss of balance. Twice during that month they took him to their local general practitioner's surgery, and twice an ear infection was diagnosed. Antibiotics were prescribed, but Thomas did not get better. Just before the family left for a holiday in France, Thomas was taken to an out-of-hours GP's surgery because his parents were still worried. Again, they were told that there was nothing to worry about. By that point three doctors had diagnosed mild illness, and all three were wrong.
A few days after arriving in France, Thomas was taken to see a French doctor who recommended further tests. Scans revealed a life-threatening medullablastoma in his brain, which was removed the following day. Thomas returned home, but although he appeared to be making a good recovery while subject to chemotherapy, his parents were told on 14 October that his cancer had spread throughout his brain and spinal cord. Thomas died just over two weeks later, some three months after the brain tumour had been diagnosed.
Thomas's parents, George and Karen Archer, who are sitting in the Public Gallery, are determined that some good should come of their son's death, and it is due primarily to their courage and determination that I sought this debate. Karen and George have already managed to raise over £15,000 for the children's brain tumour research centre at Nottingham university. I pay tribute to them for that, and for what they have already done to raise awareness of this terrible condition. I also pay tribute to their friends and neighbours who did so much to make Thomas's last weeks special, even bringing forward Christmas when it became clear that he would not live to see it, putting up decorations early and arranging for artificial snow to cover the street where Thomas lived.
Thomas was not, of course, the only child to die of a brain tumour last year. Approximately 100 do so every year, and such cancers are now the cause of more childhood deaths than any other disease. The House has debated this important issue before, to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who, I am pleased to say, is in his place this evening. He secured an Adjournment debate on the subject on 26 April 2004. I am indebted to him for the speech that he made on that occasion, and also to other hon. Members whose contributions highlighted the many aspects of treatment and support that children with brain tumours, and their parents and carers, so desperately need.
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I do not seek to suggest that no progress has been made in the treatment of cancer generally, or that this debate should be used to condemn the NHS for failing Thomas Archer. I do, however, wish to mention two respects in which I believe that improvements may be made in terms of this highly distressing condition.
First, there is the need to identify childhood brain tumours at an early stage more often. I recognise the great difficulty of diagnosing such conditions, the symptoms of which may be almost indistinguishable from those of other much less serious illnesses, and I cannot judge the general practitioners who failed to do so in the case of Thomas Archer. The fact remains, however, that a French doctor detected brain cancer where three British doctors did not, and, regardless of blame, we should investigate the reasons for that. I hope the Minister will be spurred by this case to think again about what enhancements to the education and awareness of, in particular, family doctors may be necessary.
Secondly, on the importance of effective research, the Minister will know that the NHS spends less on brain cancers than on other cancers, leaving a gap to be filled by the voluntary sector. That, too, is a problem. I understand that national cancer charities spend less than 4 per cent. of their annual research budgets on all forms of childhood cancer. Of course, I understand that the NHS in its current financial state cannot provide limitless resources for the funding of research into childhood brain cancers or, indeed, anything else. We must hope that some of the health research fund that the Chancellor announced in the Budget finds its way to such research. I understand too that, given the relatively small number of childhood cancers compared with adult cancers, there is bound to be a discrepancy in funding, although that compounds the problem, as pharmaceutical companies are also reluctant to invest for the same reason.
There is, however, something practical that the Government can do to help without the need for substantial extra resources. If we look to medical science to provide new treatments for brain cancer in children, the worst thing that we can do is to put obstacles in the path of medical scientists. The strong view of the consultant who treated Thomas Archer is that the implementation of the European clinical trials directive has damaged such medical research.
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I readily concede that the serious injuries recently caused to one group of volunteers shows the need for some regulation of clinical trials, but it is vital that regulation does not become counter-productive. A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal by two Finnish researchers, discussing the impact of the directive Europe-wide, said:
"at the outset many investigators were worried that the labour-intensive, bureaucratic and expensive endeavour of running a clinical trial would become worse. In particular, academic researchers funded by grants, who have so far performed most oncology trials, were worried that their resources might no longer suffice to meet the requirements of the new directive. A recent analysis of research since the directive suggests that many of those fears have been realised".
The authors were referring to a report by the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, which showed that clinical trial costs increased by 85 per cent. and that insurance costs doubled, following the coming into force of the directive, resulting in a 63 per cent. reduction in the number of new trials between 2004 and 2005.
Those who suffer from childhood brain cancers cannot afford a reduction in researchthey need more of it to be doneso I hope that the Minister will look again at the effect in the UK of the clinical trials directive and cut back on the paperwork, which is costing researchers too many precious hours that could be so much better spent. If those researchers can save more time, they can save more lives.
I ask the Minister to meet the doctors at the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre, so that she can hear directly from them about the problems that they face. So we are having this debate tonight because Thomas Archer died, but we are also having this debate so that others with the same condition may live. We all share that objective, and I ask the Minister to do all that she can to bring it about.