Sajid Javid wants to launch a “war on cancer” in an attempt to radically improve care for patients.
The Health Secretary told MPs he is working on a “new vision” to improve the “persistently poor outcomes” experienced by people in the UK.
Mr Javid made the declaration after concerns were raised in the House of Commons about understaffing in the NHS and waiting times for cancer services.
Labour questioned whether breast cancer care had been “deprioritised” following a steep rise in the number of patients having to wait longer than two weeks to see a specialist.
Conservative MP Lucy Allan said delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment had led to “tragic consequences” for some of her Telford constituents, asking: “What is (Mr Javid) doing to improve cancer survival rates?”
The Health Secretary replied: “The pandemic has exposed huge health disparities in this country.
“It’s clear to me that we need to go much further on cancer – not only to catch up on cancer referrals, on diagnosis, on treatment and radical innovation, but to improve the persistently poor outcomes that patients in this country have long experienced compared to other countries.
“It’s time we launched a war on cancer and I’m working on a new vision to radically improve the outcome of cancer patients across the United Kingdom, and I’ll have more to say on this in due course.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told MPs about a man admitted to hospital with kidney cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, who died last Friday as a result of delays in care.
The Labour frontbencher said: “Last week his wife contacted me in desperation because he had been unable to access treatment to clear a blockage in his lungs, because the thoracic ward at a nearby hospital had closed because of staffing shortages.
“After frantically, desperate chasing by his family and NHS staff, he was finally admitted to the Bristol Royal Infirmary last week, but unfortunately his condition had deteriorated so he couldn’t receive treatment.”
Mr Streeting asked what the Government was doing to “address the serious understaffing in the NHS”.
Health minister Maria Caulfield said: “There is no doubt that despite cancer being a priority through this pandemic, there have been pressures on the system.”
She added: “I want to reassure him that the NHS is focusing on recovering cancer services to pre-pandemic levels with an additional £2 billion of funding made available to the NHS, and also in terms of staff there’s 44,000 more staff from October 2020.
“We are absolutely committed to getting back on track to pre-pandemic levels, but cancer has always been a priority.”
Mr Streeting later challenged Mr Javid over breast cancer services, warning: “Half of all patients with suspected breast cancer are not seen within the recommended two weeks.
“In two months it’s gone from 5,000 patients not able to see a specialist in the target period to 23,000 – a far steeper increase than all other forms of cancer.
“So can I ask the Secretary of State, has breast cancer care been deprioritised?”
Mr Javid replied: “Of course it hasn’t been deprioritised and no cancer has been deprioritised.
“We have seen … because of this terrible pandemic an impact on healthcare across the country, including sadly on cancer care as well.”
Mr Javid said all types of cancer care “remain a priority”.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in