On Thursday 12 November, Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, spoke at the Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Services: Covid-19 Debate in Westminster Hall. Sir David called for more support for those with breast cancer during and after the Coronavirus pandemic. This can be done by more emphasis put on early detection, an increase in investment into the NHS facilities and workforce and more funding for clinical nurse specialists.
Sir David said "I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) on securing the debate. I agreed with everything he said. Yes, I am reminded of my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and of the redoubtable Paula Sherriff. We are all thinking of them at the moment, as they battle cancer. As far as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) was concerned, I empathise with his remarks, because I was once on the Health Committee for 10 years. We had inquiries into many of the issues raised today.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer of all. At any time, about 600,000 people in the UK are living with or recovering from breast cancer. My wife had breast cancer. She was stage 2 and her treatment was absolutely wonderful. She, dare I say, got away with radiotherapy, but a number of her friends were stage 3 and had to have chemotherapy. Through early detection, however, more and more women are surviving as a result.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will write to me about this: Southend breast cancer service has been way up there at the top, but I was slightly concerned to be told that, in my constituency, 42 per 10,000, or 152 people, develop breast cancer every year; and I am really concerned that the uptake of breast cancer screening is below the national average, at only 65.3% of women invited to attend. Only 76.7% of women are diagnosed at stage 1 or 2, compared with nearly 80% across England. I am concerned by that, and I feel a responsibility as a local Member of Parliament to do something about the issue.
As we have heard from other colleagues, covid-19 has caused many regular services to be cancelled or delayed. In order to clear the backlog and ensure attendance at screening centres, women are sent—again, I say this to my hon. Friend the Minister—open invitations, rather than timed appointments. That may lead to fewer women making appointments and so reduce the uptake of breast screening, which has been happening consistently in recent years. If open invitations are issued, measures such as appointment reminders and letters from GPs must be put in place, urging women to attend.
Colleagues have mentioned Professor Michael Richards and his recommendations last autumn. The review found that screening capacity in the NHS needs urgent investment to increase the workforce and provide adequate equipment and facilities. Following the plan to extend the upper age for testing from 65 to 70, additional pressure was placed on existing staff, many of whom are near retirement age. About half of all mammographers are aged 50 and are likely to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.
I also hope that, now the Chancellor has discovered a money tree—which I am certainly going to get hold of—additional funding will be found for investment in clinical nurse specialists, to support those with incurable secondary breast cancer. Yes, the Macmillan nurses do an absolutely fantastic job—but more needs to be done.
In conclusion, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way in which the NHS offers its services beyond recognition—we all salute that—with new technology, such as virtual appointments, being offered to patients. However, we must not lose sight of the importance of physical screening and consultations, in particular for breast cancer diagnosis. With the sobering statistic that one in seven women in the UK—my wife and three of our colleagues, whom we know about—will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives, it is more important than ever that this service is funded and resourced to allow the best chance of survival and recovery for those women”.