We’re marking the 70th birthday of the NHS by asking Government to stand shoulder to shoulder with the NHS against cancer. We want to see a commitment that Government will invest in the people that diagnose and treat cancer, because the NHS is short staffed.
In the lead up to this year’s political party conferences, we asked MPs from the main parties to outline their ambitions for the NHS and cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment in the next 70 years. Excerpts of their responses are published below, along with links to the full articles they wrote. And you can ask your MP to speak to us at their upcoming party conference to find out how to ensure cancer remains high on the political agenda.
Steve Brine, Conservative MP and Minister for Public Health
As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, we can look back with pride at its achievements.
Perhaps the greatest of these is the increase in life expectancy for people in the UK.
This is a fantastic testament to the NHS, but the increase in life expectancy has given rise to other challenges.
Solutions are required to make sure the NHS continues to support everyone who needs it.
Cancer research, diagnosis and treatment must feature prominently in our plans to deliver a sustainable NHS, since this awful disease accounts for more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK.
NHS England is working hard to identify the priorities for the future and gathering the evidence of what already works well. This will enable us to make informed, evidence-based decisions on where we invest resources.
We are starting from a position of strength, however.
Cancer survival rates are at their highest ever, and that is down to the dedication and professionalism of NHS staff across the country. Our workforce is undoubtedly our greatest resource and we must ensure it reaches its maximum potential.
Last December, Health Education England published its first ever Cancer Workforce Plan, an important step in helping us to diagnose cancers earlier. Without the right workforce, capacity and skills, we will not achieve our ambition of saving a further 30,000 lives a year by 2020.
But we still don’t diagnose cancer early enough.
The hardest cancers to detect are those where early symptoms are similar to those of other, less serious illnesses, meaning patients often visit their GP multiple times before being referred. That is why we are piloting special diagnostic centres as part of the Accelerate, Coordinate and Evaluate (ACE) programme.
Delivering the high-quality, modern cancer service that we all want will take more than just money. Everyone in the cancer community has a role to play. I trust that together we can lay the foundations for another successful 70 years of the NHS.
Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP and Shadow Public Health Minister
Many of us will have our lives touched by cancer, so it is important to celebrate the achievements of cancer diagnosis and treatment in this country, but also to reflect on how they can be improved for future generations.
Over the years, we have seen a steady improvement in cancer survival rates in England. But we still lag behind the improvements of our European counterparts, and the number of new cancer cases in England continues to rise year on year.
If these trends continue, it is estimated that by 2020, 2.4 million people in England will have had a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives.
We therefore must do better on cancer.
There is no silver bullet that will improve cancer care in the UK overnight, though there are challenges that must be addressed: the 62-day target, workforce shortages, treatment and prevention.
I pay tribute to everyone who works within the NHS for all the amazing work they do each and every day.
With workforce shortages and a growing cancer population, it is no secret that the workforce is under extreme pressure. Those challenges facing the workforce are posing a significant threat to the success of the cancer strategy.
For Labour, it will be a priority to make sure cancer services are properly resourced and staffed to provide the best possible care to all cancer patients, no matter what part of the country they live in.
Vince Cable MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Cancer is traumatising. It is universal, leaving no family untouched.
So many people work so hard to stop cancer: raising money with bake sales, running marathons, nagging our loved ones to eat better, drink less, stop smoking.
In 2017/18 alone, there were donations of £192m to Cancer Research UK, a further £153m raised from events and charity shops.
But Cancer Research UK is marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS with a campaign to get the Government to commit to invest in training and employing more specialist staff to diagnose cancer early.
This is because, despite all we are doing, all the money we are raising, the UK is falling behind other European countries in the successful treatment of cancer.
One of the barriers to the UK successfully treating cancer is the lack of healthcare professionals. Currently, 1 in 10 diagnostic posts in England are unfilled, with similar levels across the rest of the UK.
As an immediate step the Liberal Democrats urge the Government to put our health and social care system back on a sustainable financial footing with an immediate 1p rise on Income Tax to raise £6 billion additional revenue, which would be ringfenced to be spent only on NHS and social care services.
Long-term we need an earmarked tax to make sure the NHS is properly funded and that we can catch-up with our European neighbours in the fight against cancer.
Philippa Whitford, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP and Spokesperson for Health
Incremental treatment improvements are reducing the side effects of cancer treatment: surgery is less extensive and destructive while precise CT scan planning has reduced organ damage from radiotherapy.
New drug development is no longer down to accidental discovery as greater understanding of cellular biology and genetics identifies the weak points in cancer cells which are vulnerable to new treatments.
As we are living longer, and cancer risk increases with age, it is estimated that there will be a 50% increase in cancer diagnoses in 20 years’ time. Keeping up with this disease burden in diagnosis and treatment will become an ever-greater struggle, so prevention is better than cure.
Some prevention is medical, such as vaccinating against human papillomavirus to reduce the risk of cervical and oral cancers, but most relates to lifestyle.
Considering the impact each Government decision has on the health and wellbeing of our citizens could prevent, not just cancer, but many chronic conditions.
As well as reducing the strain on healthcare services, ageing well would grant us a good quality of life in our later years.
Cancer Research UK wants all MPs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the NHS against cancer. You can make this happen by asking your MP to speak to us at their upcoming party conference to find out how to ensure cancer remains high on the political agenda.