Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

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Lyn's speech in the House of Commons Christmas Adjournment debate

On 18th December 2014 Lyn took up health issues in Parliament on behalf of the local community

I am absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to contribute once again to a Christmas pre-recess Adjournment debate. I want to raise two health issues: the hysteroscopy procedure and pancreatic cancer. I know that some Members were present when I talked about hysteroscopy last year, but I must warn the others that it is not for the squeamish, so I will perfectly understand if anyone wants to leave the Chamber.

The hysteroscopy procedure was first brought to my attention by my constituent Debbie, who lives in Plaistow. She is a really lovely women and a great campaigner. She was diagnosed with womb and uterine cancer and contacted me not about the pain of the cancer, but the pain she went through during the process of diagnosis. Debbie underwent a hysteroscopy, which I remind Members is a procedure for looking inside a patient’s uterus. It is used to investigate symptoms such as pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and infertility. Biopsies are often taken during the procedure and tissue is removed. The procedure is uncomfortable and can be incredibly painful.

Debbie has since campaigned tirelessly to prevent other women being subjected to such a painful procedure. I pay tribute to the work that she and others in the hysteroscopy campaign have done. Since raising Debbie’s story in the House last Christmas, I have been contacted by a number of women across the country who heard about the debate and wanted to share their stories with me. The cases they described have all happened since last year’s debate.

One such woman is Mrs Hughes. She had a thickening of her womb and was told that she might have cancer, so she had a pipelle biopsy, which in itself was very painful and distressing. She was then told that she would need a hysteroscopy and that she would be given an anaesthetic. Mrs Hughes, who has heart problems, phoned the hospital to find out what type of anaesthetic she would be given. She was told that it would be a nerve block anaesthetic. To be clear, Mrs Hughes received information from a doctor, a nurse and a leaflet at the local hospital, all telling her that the procedure would be conducted under anaesthetic.

On the day of the procedure, however, her doctor—let us call him Dr C—told her, “Well, we only give anaesthetics to people who can’t cope with facing it. It stings, but you’ll be all right. I’ll be gentle. I’ll be in and out in 30 seconds.” But the doctor could not find the cervix. After some time, and a considerable amount of intense and painful probing inside her, water was pumped into her womb and a camera was inserted. The pain increased significantly and Mrs Hughes was calling out loudly in distress. She felt herself passing out because of the pain. The doctor then said, “I can’t reach it.” The procedure was terminated without a biopsy or a diagnosis.

After the procedure, Mrs Hughes went home. She said:

“I had excruciatingly painful cramps and bleeding. I was so very distressed and dazed... I started to shiver and then began to shake all over. I couldn’t stop the shaking. My nerves were shot. I was crying and couldn’t get the procedure out of my head... I kept having flashbacks. My heart was affected, thumping and missing beats. I felt truly traumatised. I couldn’t sleep—I kept waking up in an absolute panic.”

She was in agony and was clearly experiencing post-traumatic stress. The doctor simply told her that she would have to come back and have the procedure done under general anaesthetic.

This really cannot go on. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), kindly wrote to me after last year’s debate. She highlighted the guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stating that she expected “all clinicians to adhere to guidance where available to ensure good practice and the best outcomes for patients.”

The guidance includes the need for formal informed consent for out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. I am afraid that I do not consider that to be sufficient protection for women. A significant number of hospitals still do not use a written consent form for an out-patient hysteroscopy. It is a postcode lottery as to whether a patient is offered different options for pain control, or indeed even advised to take a pain killer before the procedure. Put simply, many women across our country are still having to go through this procedure, which is often agonising, without the right information or informed consent.

I implore the Minister to take action to ensure that surgeons must always discuss with patients what will happen before, during and after a hysteroscopy, and that they must obtain formal informed consent for an out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. This matter must be tackled. I ask the Minister to use her good offices to make some progress.

I would now like to turn to pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer often comes too late for any effective treatment, meaning that for many the news is abrupt, shocking and, all too often, a death sentence. It is often called the silent cancer, because the early symptoms are hard to detect and it is only later, when more precise and exact symptoms appear, that patients and doctors consider the possibility of pancreatic cancer.

One of my constituents, Norma Giles, wrote to me about the loss of her son Steven to pancreatic cancer in 2010. He was previously a fit and healthy man, happily married and a father, and his death has had a devastating impact on the family. He was just 42, and like many he was diagnosed too late for surgery. His wife, Clair Giles, wrote:

“if I told you pancreatic cancer is a git, I would be lying, as there are no words strong enough to tell you what pancreatic cancer does to the patient and to their family. I have struggled losing my husband, my soul mate.”

She wants me to help get the message out that early diagnosis and surviving pancreatic cancer go hand in hand, and she argues that the lack of funding for the fight against pancreatic cancer is directly responsible for the poor survival rate. Understandably, she wants that to change.

Tragically, Steven was diagnosed only after numerous visits to their GP with a range of symptoms. He had lost 4 stone and had diabetes, but it was only when a locum saw him that he was referred to hospital. Tragically, it was too late. We need to do far more to save people like Steven. Survival rates have remained unchanged over the last 40 years, with 22 people dying every day from pancreatic cancer and only 10% of patients being diagnosed in time for lifesaving curative surgery. Surely we can do better. As Members know, behind each statistic are personal stories and individual and family tragedies.

Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all cancers, yet it receives only 1% of research spend. Over the last four years, cancer spending has been cut by £800 million in real terms, and I am told that treatment standards are deteriorating and that the national cancer target has been missed in the last three quarters. Hon. Members will share my concern that this is simply not good enough, so I implore the Government to look at the issue afresh. I am sure I speak for all Members in extending our thoughts and prayers to those battling cancer and in expressing our admiration for and thanks to the NHS staff caring for them, especially over the Christmas period.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, hon. Members and everybody who works on the parliamentary estate the happiest of Christmases and the very best of new years.

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