During the Easter Adjournment debate I spoke on a number of topics surrounding NHS care, including hysteroscopy and cancer care:
I would like to use this debate to highlight three areas where I feel our national health service might do a bit better. The first, regular attendees of this debate will not be surprised to learn, is about the medical procedure of hysteroscopy.
To refresh our memories, a hysteroscopy is when a small device, often including a camera, is inserted manually through the cervix into the womb, usually to cut a sample from the tissue or lining which can be used to help to diagnose cancers and fertility issues. It is usually performed without any anaesthetic. I am told by medical professionals that it rarely causes discomfort. However, as we have heard before in this House, it can also be horrifically painful.
This is the fourth time I have raised the issue and when I last spoke I asked for a letter from the Minister to address the issue. I must thank those on the Government Benches for ensuring that such a response was forthcoming. Unfortunately, the response from the Department of Health was, if I can put it gently, bland in the extreme and did not really move the issue forward. I have written again, this time to the Secretary of State for Health. I have asked him or one of his Commons team to meet me and discuss this issue in person. The Secretary of State is not a bad man, so I hope that with the encouragement of the Minister on the Treasury Bench I might be successful.
Since raising this issue in December, I have been contacted by even more women. Given how short the debate is, I will mention only one story. This is from a woman in Leicester, who said:
“The prior information leaflet suggested there would be minimal pain...it was so excruciatingly painful that I began to cry out, my body went into shock and I started to sweat profusely. I came over disorientated and dizzy, I felt heavily nauseous and I began to pass out. I have never experienced agonising pain like it in all my life...when arriving home, I spent a long time crying, curled up in a ball doubled over with pain...the use of no local anaesthesia in this procedure seriously requires investigation.”
I know I have genuine support on both sides of the Chamber, so I am hopeful that his Secretary of State will come up with a solution that will enable us to move forward.
A colleague of ours in this place had to undergo this procedure and she was mindful of my words. She attended a central London hospital and, with no little trepidation, asked about anaesthesia. The doctor looked at her with disbelief and said, “They use anaesthesia as a matter of course, because to do anything else would be barbaric.” All we are asking for is that all women get the same care and attention whichever hospital they go to and whichever part of the country they live in.
My second issue is the speed of cancer diagnosis. West Ham has a relatively low incidence of cancer, but patients from my constituency are, unusually, likely to die within a year of being diagnosed. The essential research done by Cancer Research UK makes the primary reason for this clear: too many of my constituents die because successful diagnosis takes too long. To be honest, they also do not get to the doctors early enough to seek diagnosis. Less than half of cancers in the Newham clinical commissioning group area are diagnosed early, significantly fewer than the national average. This problem was highlighted this Wednesday by the “Today” programme on Radio 4. Currently, many patients across the country go through a drawn-out, stressful and expensive process of diagnosis. They may be referred to an oncologist for testing too late, and there is clearly a role for better and more consistently observed guidelines to prevent that.
Even when patients are referred, however, they often face a series of appointments with specialists, waiting for test results between those appointments. Many symptoms of cancer are ambiguous, especially at the essential early stages. A shift in policy towards rapid testing for multiple cancer types could be expected to improve early detection rates, giving more patients a new lease of life, saving patients and healthcare staff a great deal of stress and time, and, indeed, saving the NHS money through the adoption of a more efficient process.
I have personal reasons for raising this issue today. Had such early detection been available a few years ago, my mum might still be with me today instead of leaving us far too soon, and completely unexpectedly, on a Mothering Sunday morning. I give notice that I shall be seeking a longer debate in the House, but, in the meantime, I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House would ask the Department of Health to write to inform me of its current plans to move towards faster and more joined-up cancer diagnosis.
I also have some concerns about plans for a weakening of the link between the recommendations of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the availability of recommended treatments to patients. Access to treatments can already be delayed by 90 days, but under the new rules, approved treatments with a high overall cost—regardless of the cost per treatment—could be delayed by health commissioning authorities in England for at least three years, 13 times longer than is currently allowed. Colleagues in all parts of the House have argued in recent months that the right balance between affordability and equal access to effective treatments for those who need them has not yet been found. I echo that view, and I would appreciate any reassurance that the Government can offer that they are committed to re-examining these issues soon.
I, too, will be remembering Keith Palmer over the break, and I will be thinking of everyone and hoping that they are all safe. I say to all Members, and to all the members of staff who look after us so well: have a great Easter break.