Recently, I attended the AGM of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cancer and joined as a Vice-Chair. APPGs are Groups that bring together MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum to debate and campaign together on a particular issue. The APPG on Cancer was founded in 1998 to keep cancer at the top of the parliamentary agenda and to ensure that policymaking remains patient-centred to improve cancer services.
Over the last year, Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on cancer care, with tens of thousands of cancer patients facing agonising disruption to diagnosis and treatment, and experiencing increased anxiety about their survival, as a result. The challenges that lie ahead for cancer services, and our remarkable cancer workforce cannot be understated and are impossible to ignore.
At the AGM, I took part in a discussion about Covid-19 and cancer. We heard from Eve Byrne, Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs at Macmillan Cancer Support, who briefed us about the current state of cancer services. She highlighted that 37,000 fewer people started their first cancer treatments between March and January than in 2019. There were as many as 41,000 fewer cancer diagnoses between March and November than expected.
These statistics are simply shocking. However, behind each statistic is a person and their loved ones. That’s why it was so important to hear from Tasha and Lara, who powerfully told their stories about their experiences of living with cancer during the pandemic. Hearing about not being able to hug your family for a year or hearing the worst possible news from doctors over the phone was incredibly moving.
The AGM was a vital opportunity to hear first-hand just how urgent it is for the Government to tackle the challenges facing the cancer system and the national oversight that is needed to ensure that we have the workforce and the resource necessary for cancer services to begin to recover.
I raised the issue of the postcode lottery around cancer treatment. Some hospitals have the latest equipment and support services, and in Greater Manchester we are lucky to have the Christie Hospital – one of the largest cancer hospitals in Europe. Yet, Stepping Hill, the only NHS hospital in Stockport borough, needs major capital investment to improve its estate and equipment. The picture is the same in many areas across the UK.
As a Vice-Chair I will work to ensure cancer is not forgotten during the pandemic and beyond. Working with the APPG and colleagues across the Houses, I will:
· Ensure the Government addresses the backlog in cancer diagnosis, care and treatment
· Campaign for a funded workforce plan to deliver the ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan
· Call attention to the financial cost of cancer, including the issues facing patients who may be unable to work and have difficulty accessing benefits.
I pass on my thanks to all those that work with and support cancer patients in the NHS and the charity sector. I also extend my thanks to Macmillan Cancer Support for the work they do in raising awareness about cancer support among Members of Parliament. I look forward to being an active voice in Parliament for the cancer community and the organisations that support them.