George Freeman takes part in debate on the UK Cancer Strategy

22nd February 2018

Speaking in a debate on the UK Cancer Strategy George Freeman highlights the importance of the work of the National Institute for Health Research and the Accelerated Access review that he inisitiated when he was Minister for Life Sciences.

I know, having been a Health Minister, of my hon. Friend’s assiduous commitment to this cause. He mentioned the noble Baroness Jowell. Does he agree that, with the sight of her and the Prime Minister together embracing, the Prime Minister’s announcement of £40 million for brain cancer is good news and that that is being done in the spirit of cross-party commitment to tackling disease? It will give a lot of hope to that community.

On the point about alternative therapies, does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important that the medical community and, through Government, the National Institute for Health Research do the research to examine those therapies? Although they might not be rooted in a tradition of empirical science, if there is data that shows that they help patients’ recovery time, that is worthy of consideration.

My hon. Friend has helped me on my path. Various trials have taken place: randomised control trials, observational studies and quality-of-life studies. The person who came up with the notion of evidence-based medicine, Professor Sackett, said:

“The practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence”.

In plain language, that means, “You have to look at the patient and see what the patient thinks and what the patient’s experience is.” We are often told by Ministers and others that we need more evidence—that there must be evidence. The trouble is that when evidence is produced on the basis of proper trials, it is often ignored.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we are to tackle such cancer outliers, it is vital that, as well as the great research we do in the UK, we make sure that the NHS is better at adopting and taking up innovative medicines? A large part of the accelerated access review, the genomics programme and the informatics programme is about making sure that the NHS is capable not just of doing the research but of enlightened procurement to take up more quickly the drugs that work.

Absolutely, and I will come on to that later.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that on this subject of accelerated, earlier diagnosis and treatment, the work of the Institute of Translational Medicine in Birmingham, led by Professor Charlie Craddock, and the Cure Leukaemia team, working on blood cancers, has written the playbook on how we do early diagnosis? They have pulled in £200 million of free drugs for NHS patients by doing accelerated access.

There is some wonderful work going on, and this goes back to what the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) said about the need to grab this wonderful work and move it forward, and not be held back by frameworks that are not quick enough to move with the times.

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; she is making a powerful point. On early diagnosis, prevention and screening, the 100,000 Genomes Project that we launched here in the UK, focused on cancer and rare diseases, is seeking volunteers for genome sequencing to combine with patient data, to identify people at risk. That is a brilliant way for people to get involved, and if anyone is concerned, they should contact the NHS and enrol. We still need another 50,000 patients, and that is a marvellous way of getting access to early diagnosis. Does she agree?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to cover that, so I am delighted that he has.

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